From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

One Of God’s Purposes In Suffering

There’s been an unusual amount of suffering in my neck of the woods recently. There have been several deaths (some of them expected but some of them completely unanticipated; some of older folks but some rather young) and several serious cancer situations. It has felt like a series of body blows to my church. While there have been some near-miraculous recoveries, it’s caused me to wonder “what the heck is going on here”? I expect to have more time to contemplate this later (I have three funerals in 5 days plus who knows how many more) – but this blog post by Tim Challies made me stop and think.

Challies cites a book by Ligon Duncan, Does Grace Grow Best In Winter? Duncan, in considering the first chapter of Colossians, brings up an idea I had not thought of – that one purpose of suffering is to build up the church. Duncan puts it this way:

Our suffering aids the maturity of the whole body of believers. It is extraordinary that our suffering is designed not only to work godliness in us as individuals, causing us to prize Christ more, but also to work maturity within the whole church.

If we in the church are all part of each other, then we rejoice and suffer together. It had not occurred to me that I might be suffering so that another person in the church might become more mature in the faith. Here’s how Challies puts it:

We all know that as members of the church we are to rejoice together and to mourn together, but do we understand that these occasions of mourning are given for our maturity? If we truly are a body, each part dependent on the other, then it cannot be any other way. One person’s suffering is every person’s suffering; one person’s maturing is every person’s maturing.

I think of times when my own faith has grown and matured. To be honest, it’s grown more by seeing people handle suffering faithfully than by seeing people relieved of their suffering by the Lord. Of course when a cancer is cured I’m happy for the person, and thankful to God. But when I see a fellow Christian NOT cured, but still living faithfully, still clinging to Christ – then my faith is not only impressed, but broadened and deepened.

That doesn’t make my job as a pastor easier (that’s the lure of our culture; easier=better). But it does make it deeper. It does grow my roots deeper in the soil of faith. Strange as it may seem, I want to thank my people who are enduring cancer, bereavement, and whatever other suffering may be going on, with a faith that just will not give up. Thank you for being an example to me of a love that is stronger than death. I’ll leave you with these concluding words from Challies’ post:

Your suffering does not just belong to you. You are members of a body. Your suffering is for the body’s maturity 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. Your suffering is also the body’s suffering because one of God’s purposes in suffering is the maturity of the whole church.

 

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