Called to Suffer Together
"“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”
-2 Corinthians 1:6"
The Bible talks about sharingin Christ’s suffering, and sharing in the suffering of the saints.In the first 4 weeks we have discussed thoroughly what it means toshare, in part, in Christ sufferings, and we have also discussed howwe share in the same sufferings as the saints by fighting against thedevil and sin. Now we transition to focus on a crucial part ofsuffering –that we must literally share our suffering.
The Bible talks about sharing
in Christ’s suffering, and sharing in the suffering of the saints.
In the first 4 weeks we have discussed thoroughly what it means to
share, in part, in Christ sufferings, and we have also discussed how
we share in the same sufferings as the saints by fighting against the
devil and sin. Now we transition to focus on a crucial part of
suffering –that we must literally share our suffering.
Your suffering isn’t only about you. You need the body to kill your sin, and the body needs you to kill their sin! When one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Suffering highlights that we weren’t meant for independent living. In fact, God has ordained for our endurance through suffering to be a means to equip and edify the saints! In your personal suffering against sin, it may just be that the means God has ordained for you to finally have victory over your sin and suffering is through the comfort of the body of Christ (the Church)! The question is whether or not your suffering drives you to isolation or community. The Bible clearly teaches that we are called to suffer together.
Main text: 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
In these 9 verses, Paul uses the word comfort 10 times. He says that God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (suffering). But Paul says something crucial – we are comforted to be givers not consumers. The comfort God gives us is not just for us. You can see this by the fact that Paul says God comforts us in all affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. Paul is saying - don’t be selfish with your comfort. The Christian as a new creation is to be a humble giver, a servant, and a steward of God’s grace. Everything we have been given is to be poured back out in service to God and the saints. Comfort during suffering is no different. In fact, the comfort you receive from God hasn’t been used to the fullest until you have shared that comfort.
Paul goes on – when you comfort others who are in affliction, comfort them with God’s comfort not your own. Let’s define the Greek word for comfort. The word does NOT mean sympathy. While the Bible sometimes translates compassion into sympathy, we must be cautious with our modern English definition. In English today, sympathy means “pity and concern for the misfortunes of others.” This is emphatically NOT what Paul is talking about. The comfort Paul is talking about is not someone who will come and pity you. It is not someone who will come and distract you by giving you something or taking you somewhere. It is not someone who will come and simply say something like “it’s ok” or “you don’t deserve this” or “how unfortunate is your situation.” This goes completely against everything that the Bible tells us about suffering, God’s purposes, and why we should receive suffering with joy! God isn’t sympathetic towards us (in the way sympathy is defined today). He doesn’t look at our suffering with pity and concern over our misfortune – no He is the one who tests us, and is sovereign over all evil and suffering without being evil Himself. He is working all things for the good of those whom He has called according to His purposes!
The root word Paul uses 10 times here in these 9 verses means to exhort, encourage, or quite literally: being called to one’s side to help. In fact, translated into Latin it means to comfort with strength. The point is, we often try to help in the midst of people’s suffering with the means of the world, self-help methods, psychology, medicine, distractions, or flat out sin. But Paul says here – don’t be sympathetic – be a comfort. Sympathy saps strength! Comfort brings strength. Be an equipper. Be an edifier. Come to their side and help. Don’t put a band aid on the suffering and act as if it isn’t there or it can be swept under the rug.
A person who is a comforter has enough boldness, to (with gentleness, compassion, and tact) come alongside a believer and remind them that God has a purpose in suffering – namely that we are to come through the fire of testing, endure, and so prove to be a new creation. Paul says in verse 4: don’t comfort them with your comfort, comfort them with the comfort you received from God. His comfort! What do you have to offer outside of God? We don’t have any strength to offer, rather in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect. If left to us, we will offer sympathy, but if we come alongside in the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring comfort! And Paul says to share abundantly in Christ’s suffering by default means that you will share in His comfort.
In verse 6 Paul says that this is one of the purposes of suffering: if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. Paul flat out says, your suffering isn’t about you only. In other words, everything that the believer experiences with God and receives from God is meant to be shared. This is the purpose of the body! God has given so that we may give. He provides through His body! Paul continues and says something very important - that this comfort is experienced when we patiently endure suffering (verse 6). The truth is, that we want to be comforted without having to endure suffering. But Paul says – No! You will not be comforted apart from enduring suffering. And this is a gracious thing! Remember, when we are tested and endure we prove to have character – a new creation character. We prove we are real and in the faith. Those who endure to the end will be saved. Therefore, those who are not defeating sin, and are continuing in sin with no repentance should not have comfort. If they could have comfort, then they would not know anything is wrong. They would be comforted to eternal damnation. So, Paul makes it abundantly clear that this comfort, this strength and encouragement, only comes when we patiently endure suffering. Then and only then can we have a hope that is unshaken.
This is especially important for us to know as believers when we see a brother or sister falling into sin, struggling with habitual sin, or drifting. What we want to immediately do is act like we know how to love them the best. And so often we will approach them with a lot of fluff – we will sympathize, we will pity. We will be afraid to get too deep into their business. We don’t want to offend, we don’t want to push them away, we don’t want them to get upset with us. And in the midst of the softness of our culture, we mistake what the Bible means by comfort. Jesus does indeed sympathize with us in our weaknesses, as Hebrews 4 says, but the word means that God is compassionate. So we ought to be compassionate, but we must also remember that Paul says God’s kindness is meant to lead to repentance (Romans 2). Those whom He does not discipline are illegitimate children and have no hope (Hebrews 12).
There is a way to be compassionate, and tactful, and yet love enough to warn. The comfort that Paul is talking about here is one that gets down in the trenches with the one living in sin, not to judge them and throw stones, but to with the strength they have received from God begin to help the brother or sister get out of the pit. Comfort exhorts. It warns and challenges. Comfort encourages! It reminds them that God’s grace is sufficient. It reminds them of the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s grace and mercy. It comes alongside to help with the strength of God. If we want to be a church that shares in suffering, we have got to learn how to lovingly exhort, encourage, and get in the trenches with each other so that we may pull each other out of sin.
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:18-19
If people are wandering, living in habitual sin, or drowning in doubt, despair, and fear, don’t sympathize with them. Go bring them back! Suffering is a corporate call! We are supposed to be suffering together. Don’t live in isolation, and don’t let others live in isolation.
Look at verses 8-11: the great Paul who endured what chapter 6 reveals as enduring afflictions, hardships, beating, calamites, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, slander and much more, says in verse 8 - we were burdened beyond our strength. We despaired of life itself. Paul says in verse 9 that the sufferings they were going through were as if they had received the sentence of death. Suffering is real. It is painful. It can depress. It can deflate. It can make you feel like you can’t live another day. And for this there is need for compassion. There is need for humility. There is need for us to swallow the pill of mourning and weeping and anguish. But Paul says that even this is designed by God. There is purpose in the pit of deep, darkness, and despair. Verse 9 reveals this purpose: to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead! Paul shows us that in all suffering God is revealing that you are not as strong as you think. God is showing you that apart from Him you would have the sentence of death. You would have no hope. God allows us to go to the lowest parts of suffering so that we may see our desperate state apart from Him, and then as He comforts us, sanctifies us, and gives us the strength to endure, we become saints who worship Him all the more with thanksgiving. Think about it: If I lost my wallet and someone found it for me, I would rejoice. But if I lost my daughter and someone found her for me, I would weep with rejoicing! There is something to be said about God using the depths of suffering to show us the depths of what He has done for us in order that our life of praise and thanksgiving and worship would go to new depths!
God means for this awareness, and new character, and comfort that you experience to be a lighthouse! He means to put what He does in you on display! Paul Tripp says that suffering powerfully highlights that we were not created for independent living. It preaches that our life is a community project. God’s grace doesn’t work to propel our independence, but to deepen our vertical and horizontal dependence. In suffering, the people of God are meant to be the look of God’s face, the touch of His hand, the sound of His voice, the evidence of His love, the picture of His presence, and the visible demonstration of His faithfulness. Our faith is strengthened when we see others endure persecution, affliction, and suffering.
The enemy seeks to make you apathetic and paralyzed in suffering, but God is sovereignly enlisting you in His army of service and compassion to be an example to everyone else who will suffer. The question is whether or not your suffering drives you to isolation or community.
Ligon Duncan says that your suffering does not just belong to you. You are members of a body. Your suffering is for the body’s maturing as much as it is for yours. Your suffering is there to build up the church of Christ. It is there for the people of God to be given faith and hope and confidence in the hour of their trials.
All isolated suffering is wasted suffering. You have no strength on your own to endure. God desires that you endure with the body – that you share in suffering! Paul explicitly says – if we are afflicted it is for your comfort and salvation. Satan not only wants you to be isolated in suffering so that you don’t endure, but also so that you won’t help others endure. Isolation is a tool used by the devil to keep your sin private, to keep repentance distant, to waste your suffering, to destroy your joy, and to keep your ministry ineffective. But God means for community to be the tool in which your sin is killed, your repentance is encouraged, your suffering is endured, your joy filling up, and your ministry fruitful.
With all this being said, here are 5 ways God intends for you to share in suffering with the saints. Here is what the Bible says about how we are to corporately suffer together in order that God is glorified, the body is edified, and the world sees Jesus:
We share in suffering by enduring suffering ourselves so that we may be able to comfort and exhort one another.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
2 Timothy 2:9-13
We share in suffering through humble compassion.
Galatians 5:25 – 6:2
1 Peter 3:8
We share in suffering by serving sacrificially.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
We share in suffering when we love one another.
1 Corinthians 13:3-8
Did you know that the book ends of 1 Corinthians 13 imply suffering? 1 Cor. 12:26 says that if one member suffers, all suffer together. Then the last verse of 12 says, I will show you a better way, and the better way is the way of love (chapter 13). Look at verse 3: If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. If I suffer without love – it is worthless! Here is what is amazing – before the famous 4 verses on what love is – Paul says – if I suffer without love I gain nothing! Therefore – we are to suffer with love. So in that context read the famous verses. To suffer with love is to be patient and kind. To suffer with love is to not envy or boast. To suffer with love is to not be arrogant or rude. To suffer with love is to not insist on its own way. To suffer with love is to not be irritable or resentful. To suffer with love is to not rejoice at wrongdoing, but to rejoice with truth. To suffer with love means to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Love is the greatest tool to use in suffering. This is how we know we are children of God John tells us (1 John), that we love one another, and especially in suffering! Pursue love Paul says! PURSUE LOVE! He told Timothy that the aim of his charge was LOVE!
We share in suffering when we corporately give thanks and praise to God!
2 Corinthians 4:7-15
2 Corinthians 1:11
Our suffering ultimately should lead to praise. Not just individual praise – corporate praise! Remember, the depths of suffering reveal the depths of God’s grace and mercy (the difference between losing your wallet and your daughter). One is a great feeling, and one causes joyful weeping! We won’t experience the exact kinds of suffering as our brothers and sisters, but when we see a sister endure a deep battle with cancer and endure, it adds depth to our worship. When we see a brother overcome 20 years of a pornography addiction, it adds depth to our worship. When we see a rebellious child finally come home, it adds depth to our worship. When we see a sister overcome deep depression and suicidal thoughts, it adds depth to our worship. Our corporate suffering, comfort, and endurance should lead to a joyful weeping with thanksgiving!
Church – do not let your suffering, your sin, or your weaknesses drive you into isolation. Do not attempt to live life alone. Perhaps the key to you finally having victory over that sin you have struggled with so long is the comfort of the body. Perhaps the key to you finally overcoming fear and depression is the comfort of the body. Perhaps the key to someone else’s victory over sin and enduring suffering is the comfort that you have received from God. Let us not be a place where we come together once a week over a common interest! Let us live like a body – a body where when one member suffers – we all suffer. A body where we are comforting one another with the strength that God has so graciously given us. Let us be a body that encourages, equips, and exhorts. A body that is full of humility and compassion. A body that sacrificially serves one another. A body that earnestly, and genuinely loves one another. A body that corporately gives thanks to God and can’t help but life their voices and their hands in praise!