Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SHARED SUFFERING”

First Corinthians 12.24-26

 

Why are you here?

Why do you exist?

Is there a greater purpose for your existence than to accumulate wealth, or to propagate the species, or to consume resources more rapidly than others?

One of the wonderful things about being a Bible-believing Christian is our access to the answers to such questions in the Bible. In Revelation 4.11, as well as a number of other passages in the Bible, we are told why we exist, why everything exists, and what is the ultimate purpose of being. Listen, as a heavenly ensemble sings out in worship and praise: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” God created everything for His pleasure, that through His creation He might receive glory and honor and power. Have we not been privileged to see unfolded before our eyes over these past few months ways in which scientific investigation unwaveringly points the honest inquirer, whether he is an astronomer who considers things vast and large, or a biologist who scrutinizes things microscopic, to the inescapable conclusion that all has been created by God, and that His creation shows Him to be truly glorious?

Psalm 19.1 explains to us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” Thus, by natural means God is pleased to show forth His glory and to testify of His creative work. However, God has not limited Himself to showing forth His glory by natural means alone. He is also glorified by spiritual means.

To illustrate what I mean, please turn to John 15.8: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” In this verse, the Lord Jesus Christ is obviously drawing a parallel between something that takes place in the natural realm and something that takes place in the realm of the spiritual, with this statement most definitely not dealing with the natural realm.

The Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples that when they bore fruit, which is to say when they spiritually reproduced the way a fig tree would reproduce physically, or an olive tree reproduced physically, His heavenly Father would be glorified. In teaching His disciples this important truth, our Lord Jesus Christ was pointing out that God is glorified by other means than the merely physical, by other means than nature. He is also glorified by what takes place in the spiritual realm, such as when Christians evangelize and the result is other Christians.

Since Jesus is the vine and His disciples are the branches, John 15.5, and without Him His disciples can do nothing, we understand that whenever God is glorified by means of this spiritual activity, it is really the Lord Jesus Christ accomplishing spiritual ends through the use of means. In other words, Jesus is accomplishing the spiritual feat of glorifying the Father through the activity of His disciples.

That God is glorified through spiritual means, then, is established. That it is actually Jesus who works through the means of using men (His disciples) to glorify His Father is also established. Is this the only means used by the Lord Jesus Christ to glorify the Father? Turn to Ephesians 3.21, where we will see that the answer is Yes and No: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”

This is becoming a familiar verse to us, so we have already firmly established that the “him” referred to by Paul can only be God the Father. Here the Apostle clearly states that it is Christ Jesus’ purpose to glorify God the Father both when and where. The when is throughout all ages, both now and forever. The where is in the church. Thus, we have another spiritual means by which the Lord Jesus Christ works to glorify the Father. Once again, we see the Lord Jesus Christ using believers to glorify the Father, but for the first time we see that the believers are in a church relationship, which is why I answered Yes and No a moment ago.

Believers are, but then they are not, the only means by which Jesus glorifies the Father. The means by which the Lord Jesus Christ will eternally glorify God the Father is Christians in the church relationship, now and forever, “throughout all ages, world without end.” Keep in mind that it seems to be the Lord Jesus Christ’s singular privilege to glorify His heavenly Father by the use of various means. He brought the physical universe into existence and sustains its continuance as a means of glorifying the Father.[1] As well, He is the Author of all spiritual life and endeavor that glorify the Father.

The only loose end not yet tied up before we sing has to do with those who are not saved. Though it is properly a topic of another sermon, I am convinced the Lord Jesus Christ is also responsible for glorifying His heavenly Father with respect to those who die without Christ. How so? Since all judgment is committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, John 5.22, I suspect that God the Father will be glorified by the punishment of the damned, those Christ-rejecting people who are God’s enemies who will be punished throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity by . . . the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself.

His purpose is to glorify God and He will not be denied. He will glorify God through your salvation and service to God, or He will glorify God through your condemnation and punishment for rebellion against God. Either way, the overarching purpose of the Son of God will be fulfilled in time and in eternity.

 

SERMON:

 

Picture the scene on that chilly night in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus praying at a distance from His remaining disciples: The Lord Jesus Christ brought His church into existence in Matthew chapter ten, by calling twelve disciples to be His apostles. Paul’s description of the event is found in First Corinthians 12.28, where he writes, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles.” However, that was a year ago, hardly remembered on this strange night, with the swirl of the events of the past week, including the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the institution of the Lord’s Supper some hours before. The core constituency of Christ’s church are now dozing in the Garden of Gethsemane, while the Head of the church prays, “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”[2]

When Judas arrived with armed men to arrest the Master, there was some resistance. However, it did not last long. When the determination of the Temple guards to take Jesus was discerned, “Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.”[3] Though some gathered enough courage to follow at a distance, no one spoke up for Him. No one defended Him. Three times in quick succession, Peter denied Him. When our Savior was finally crucified, of His followers only a few women and young John were actually present at some distance to witness His suffering and death. The Head of the church suffered for our sins alone, without comfort, and without companionship, abandoned even by His heavenly Father, which is why He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”[4]

You will all die. You will all suffer. It is man’s lot in life to die, and it is man’s lot in life to suffer. Is it not true what we read in the book of Job? “Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”[5] Sometimes a man’s suffering is closely associated with his dying. However, sometimes it is the living that causes the suffering, while the dying is either sudden or peaceful, without being so closely associated with suffering. Whatever the particular circumstances of your life have been or will be, you will suffer. What will your suffering be like? What will its purpose be? What comfort and consolation can you expect to look forward to through it?

Recognizing that there is suffering in life, and knowing that suffering involves both pain and heartache, whether it is caused by accident or injury, illness or poverty, persecution or disease, it is important to ask yourself what is to be made of your suffering when it comes (and it will come)? What you make of your suffering greatly depends upon who you are and what you are:

 

IF YOU ARE AN AVERAGE PERSON, WHAT IS TO BE MADE OF YOUR SUFFERING?

 

I mean no disrespect when I use the term average. I simply refer to most people, the vast majority of the population, the tendency of the greatest percentage of people. What is to be made of most people’s suffering?

There is no doubt that the suffering an individual experiences, if he is like most people, will be personal and painful. By personal, I mean that it is his physical pain that is being experienced, and not someone else’s. It is his heartache and discouragement that is produced, and not someone else’s. It is his confusion and disorientation that must be dealt with when his life is turned upside down, and not someone else’s. He is the one who feels the pain. He is the one who cries. He is the one who despairs. He is the one who is despondent. He is the one who feels utterly hopeless. This is why I insist that suffering is personal. It is yours and no one else’s.

In addition to being personal, the average guy’s suffering is also painful. Did I mention the physical pain that deprives of sleep, that puts to flight peace of mind, that distorts the normally calm and serene personality? Even if there is no physical pain, there can be awful psychic pain, emotional torment, and unbearable anguish of the mind and heart.

The great tragedy, and sad reality for the average person, is that “having no hope, and without God in the world,” there is therefore no meaning to be associated with the pain, no purpose to be associated with the suffering. How can there be? If there is no relationship with God, how could there be an overarching purpose behind what is happening to you? If there is no Providence, how can there be any meaning to anything, including suffering?

Can you deal with that amidst your suffering? Can you handle that when you are at the bottom of the well of grief, that there is no high or noble purpose associated with what you are experiencing, that it is just random horror? Can you deal with the logical conclusion of no god for you, that everything is accidental and you just drew the short straw . . . again?

No wonder people drown their sorrows with booze, or self-medicate themselves into a stupor, or fornicate themselves into a frenzy, or work themselves to death. The different kinds of pain felt by sufferers are by no means justification, and such behavior certainly does not help anyone who is suffering, only making things worse. However, you do gain insight into why so many people do to themselves what they do. They correctly see no possible benefit associated with their suffering. Therefore, unless God makes use of suffering to bring the sufferer to Christ, there is no benefit to suffering for the average person.

 

WHAT IS TO BE MADE OF YOUR SUFFERING IF YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN?

 

Just as with the average sufferer, the Christian’s suffering is no less personal, and just as painful. There is nothing in God’s Word that would suggest or hint that Christians suffer any less, or that a Christian’s suffering is any less painful, than anyone else’s suffering. To think otherwise is to completely misread the tenor of scripture.

Completely unlike the suffering of the average Joe, the Christian’s suffering can always be profitable. I say this because of what we find about a Christian’s suffering in Romans 8.16-28:

 

16     The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

17     And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

18     For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

19     For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

20     For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

21     Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

22     For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

23     And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

24     For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?

25     But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

26     Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

27     And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

28     And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

 

Admittedly, we do not always know what to pray for. Granted, we do not always understand. It goes without saying that we would not choose for ourselves what has been chosen for us to experience as Christians, insofar as the pain and suffering is concerned. Know this, however. What you are suffering is being experienced, to a degree, by all creation, and you can know that for you who love God it all works together for good. In other words, your suffering is always profitable in some way.

Your Savior is good and trustworthy. He is compassionate and merciful. What He puts His Own through may be painful, and certainly causes suffering, but is always useful to glorify His Father, which after all is the reason why you and I exist, is it not? Can anything be more wonderful than fulfilling your purpose of glorifying God? No. That is the meaning of life.

 

THERE IS ANOTHER CONSIDERATION, WHICH IS WHAT IS TO BE MADE OF A CHURCH MEMBER’S SUFFERING?

 

Everything that applies to a Christian’s suffering certainly applies to a church member’s suffering. Since one must be a Christian in order to properly be a church member, a church member’s suffering is in every way similar to the Christian’s suffering, since the church member is a Christian. His suffering is personal. His suffering is painful. His suffering is profitable to glorify God somehow.

However, there is a way in which a church member’s suffering differs from that person who is not a church member. You see, the Christian’s suffering is personal, painful, profitable, and very frequently private. By that, I mean the Christian’s suffering is personally profitable, but since it is private it is not profitable for others in the way a church member’s suffering can be and should be.

In First Corinthians 12.24-26, the Apostle Paul writes some things that are startling to some people:

 

24     For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

25     That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

26     And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

 

This passage is profound in its implications for the Christian in a church relationship. Verse 24 shows us that God has tempered our congregation together, has mixed us together.[6] Verse 25 indicates God’s purpose being that there should be no schism, no division, but that we should have the same care one for another. And considering only the first half of verse 26 at present, we are so tightly bound together spiritually that when one of us suffers we all suffer.

Does it hurt you for me to hurt? If you do not hurt when I hurt, then there is an issue to deal with. If I do not hurt when you hurt, then there is an issue I must deal with. As a whole human body is affected by the pain in any portion or extremity, so it is with a healthy church congregation. Now do you see what I mean when I say that our suffering is not private? It is supposed to be shared because in fact it is shared, unless you keep it a secret . . . which seems foreign to the concept of a church relationship as we see it revealed to the Corinthians.

A body cannot always heal an injured member, but a body does always react to an injured member. You cannot always affect a cure for what ails a church member, but you can always comfort and console a church member, as Paul describes in Second Corinthians 1.3-6:

 

3      Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

4      Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

5      For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

6      And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

 

Only when your suffering is consoled by other church members is your suffering spiritually beneficial to them, as well as to you. You see, when you suffer, Christian, you know God is working in your life. He does nothing for no reason. When you allow a church member to minister grace to you, you are also allowing your suffering to be used by God in a mysterious way to be a blessing to him as he seeks to comfort you.

 

This entire matter of suffering is very difficult to come grips with, because it hurts us to see our loved ones in pain. We agonize when those we cherish and admire are facing formidable challenges that seem insurmountable. In great measure, when such things cause suffering we do not know what to do, or what to say. Nevertheless, we simply cannot sit by and do nothing. Place yourself in their shoes, since you will someday be in their shoes.

When you are suffering, who do you want around you, lost people for whom your suffering has no meaning? How can your suffering have meaning to you so long as you are lost, and how can lost people minister grace to you in the midst of your suffering? They cannot. How does a man or woman who does not know Christ make any sense of Christ’s work in your life to bring glory to God? There is no way.

Consider, now, the church member. While the Christian’s suffering may be profitable to him, the church member’s suffering is useful to the whole congregation, as we all share and have in common the suffering of one of our members.

I bring two wonderful Christians who are members of our church to your attention. Both of them are in the midst of great suffering, suffering that is being used by the Savior to enable them to be partakers of His sufferings. Though this is a mystery they understand only with great difficulty and strong faith, it is somehow profitable for them and serves to glorify God.

Additionally, there are benefits to be derived from their experiences that you miss out on by not functioning as a church member ought to function. If you do not seek to comfort them, you are missing out on experiences, opportunities for personal spiritual growth, and personal challenges God wants you to face.

Men, you need to visit this wonderful Christian man. It would tremendously encourage him, and would be of profound benefit to you, as well. Ladies, you need to visit this sister in Christ. How can anyone question the need to comfort her, and the blessing God would bestow on you for ministering to her?

Now that I am in my 58th year, it is not so difficult for me to imagine either suffering or death. Why would I be so foolish as not to want myself surrounded by well-intentioned Christians who are part of my church, to minister to me in my suffering, as well as giving me an opportunity to minister to them from my suffering?

I do not fully grasp the thinking of those people who reject my Savior, thereby virtually guaranteeing that they end up alone as they approach death, or surrounded by the clueless during those times when you need for meaning to be associated with your suffering.

I thank God for the Savior, Who saves from sins, and Who places obedient Christians in a church relationship to better use us to glorify God, both now for forever. Only in this way does suffering fulfill its intended meaning.



[1] Colossians 1.16-17

[2] Luke 22.44

[3] Matthew 26.56

[4] Matthew 27.46

[5] Job 5.6-7

[6] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 430.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org