The Challenge of Suffering
Today, let me summarize some truths about suffering for us from what we have seen thus far in Colossians 1:1-2:5, as I think it will have great application to what we are going thru today, even though we are not suffering due to being Christ followers today. I still think it bears application with regards to some things we are battling thru as a church body today.
I think the tendency for the church in any age is to retreat in a cowardly and selfish way from the high demands of the Christian faith and seek safety in taking the easy road and the selfish road and to justify it, especially in difficult times. I mean after all, we aren't completely denying Christ, we think to ourselves. But maybe we are more than we think. Even today we must be willing as believers to be daring and sacrifice for the cause of Christ even at the cost of self.
So, let me encourage and challenge each of us with these truths:
1. The church is the body of the crucified Messiah. This means that we will suffer, as reconciliation is costly, always has and always will be. Unity is costly in the same way. Denying self, etc. Even today we must be willing to share in Christ's sufferings in order to "fill up what is lacking" in the delivery of the message. After all, if Christ willingly suffered, why should His followers expect less? We are not greater than our Master. The world's opinions of Christ haven't changed. We too must be recognizable by our sufferings and scars. We are not promised immunity from suffering, but rather security in the midst of it. Not that we will avoid it, but rather pass thru it.
2. Do not view your suffering as heroic or entitling you to anything. It is simply what we have been called and privileged to partake in so that our Lord will be glorified and His mission advanced. Humility still reigns, even as in our Lord in Phil. 2. Still no room for pride. Humiliation is still the lens thru which we see our Lord most clearly and others see Him in us. Every follower must take up the cross and suffer. PERIOD. And we can do this joyfully knowing we belong to Christ. That is the joy. Not the suffering, but rather what it produces. Being conformed to Christ and His likeness and advancing the gospel and the glory of our God. That is why we are here and endure whatever it takes.
3. We cannot turn inward to ourselves in times of suffering. It is still not about us even when we suffer. Don't fall into that trap. You are not enduring anything that is not common to man as Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:13. Nor do we suffer privately and for ourselves only. Others are involved too. We are a body. Many are one. We suffer for Christ and each other's good. See Col. 2:1. Have the attitude that Paul had, who did not expect others to serve him, but rather sought to serve others. Even in suffering, it was never about Paul. We best glorify and serve our Lord when we put the needs of others above our own even if it costs us personally and even while it costs us personally. We handle and endure suffering best when we are willing to serve others in the midst of our own suffering. Don't crawl into a shell when we suffer.
4. See the effect of our willingness to suffer as a crushing defeat of this evil age we live in currently. Our suffering is not pointless or meaningless. It has a purpose. See 2 Cor. 4:16 -18. God and His purposes and power win. Believe that. When your suffering ends, God remains. When your suffering ends, His promises remain. Your enemies will perish, but God and His promises remain. The same power that raised Christ from the dead will raise you believer, and at that moment and for all eternity your suffering will pale in comparison to the glory you receive, see Romans 8:18.
5. Your suffering produces greater faith, in you and others. Our opponents seek to crush our faith thru their opposition, and yet if endured rightly suffering only strengthens our faith. All praise be to God. This is Romans 5:3-5.
This is why we are here church. To make much of our Lord. We have been commissioned by our Lord with His gospel and to help the world see His glory, to proclaim Christ at all times and help people grow firm in their faith, to bring about love for and unity amongst believers, and to reach out to those around us with the good news of the gospel.
May we at TCO take all of this seriously. May we serve with dedication and sacrifice no matter what it takes or is asked of us. We are not here to serve ourselves nor to further our own agendas. We are here as ambassadors for Christ and His gospel. We are to be instruments of reconciliation and healing no matter what it requires of us.
May this be us, even now. People don't need friendly churches - they need friends. Garden friends. Beyond Sunday morning. Real friends who will be there with them and for them thru thick and thin, as our Lord is with us. When it is easy and we agree and when it is hard and we don't agree. May we encourage one another today in new ways. May we be a place of hope and encouragement no matter the cost. May it never become about us. No matter the cost. All to the glory of our King.