Suffering for Him
Tuesday of Pentecost 17
18 September 2018
We needn't be overwhelmed by suffering. In fact, we should welcome it. That seems wildly counter-intuitive, to say the least. We humans avoid pain in a way that makes Pavlov's dog look like an amateur. Even a dog will sometimes defend a beloved master at peril of his own life, by attacking a bear or other wild animal. We humans tend to be quite good at the pain and pleasure calculus, avoiding pain and rushing headlong toward pleasure. For Christians, it is not so simple. Christians believe that we have been created by God to interpret our experiences morally. We cannot merely ignore the moral meaning of our actions, because our heavenly Father has created us as beings that answer to Him. We are fitted for fellowship with Him, but we have often forfeited that fellowship by seeking to avoid the cross that He sends to us. Maybe what we need is a bit more counter-intuition.
 
Suffering puts us in fellowship with God. The pivotal event in the life of Christ is His suffering and death. The gospels dedicate fully two thirds of their narrative to the last six weeks of the Lord's life. The divine drama of suffering is the unmistakable center and crux of the gospel story. Through baptism, Christ has incorporated us into the mystery of His suffering so that when we suffer we are sharing both His suffering and the consolation that abounds from His suffering. We can only interpret our suffering in view of His. Our suffering only makes sense under the shadow of His cross.
 
The moral meaning of suffering is Christ on the cross. This fits very well with the christological presupposition that everything centers in the person Christ, not in some set of predetermined moral or theological principles. The Bible is not merely a statute book or legal code, but the revelation of Christ the Son of God to the world. Therefore, His suffering also tells us what our consolation is and its abundance. How can we not face suffering with joy and anticipation from the outset? We know from Scripture its glorious outcome in the life of Christ and the honor it gives to God. Indeed, the abundance of our suffering becomes a superabundance of consolation. The drama of the suffering of the Son of God is also the story of our own lives with God. The dénouement of that drama is the overflowing comfort that floods over our troubled consciences. There are none more blessed than those who are suffering for and with Christ.
 
Think of the honor and glory that is redounding to God when you suffer dishonorable treatment for the name of Christ. Remember it is your calling (1Pt 2:21). When you speak of Christ's suffering and death as the life of the world and are ridiculed by your friends, neighbors, and family, it is to the honor and glory of the God who wants His Word proclaimed in season and out of season (2Ti 4:2). If people turn their back on you when you offer a prayer, you should rejoice, because the prophets were so persecuted (Mt 5:12). When your boss is angry at you because you have spoken of your love of Christ who was crucified in your place, take it as a badge of honor that "it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Phil 1:29). What a glory you are to the church and to Christ when you suffer for His name's sake.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"'As we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too' (2Co 1:5). So as not to depress the disciples by an aggravated account of his sufferings, Paul declares that the consolation was also so great and superabundant. He lifts up their heart not by this alone, but also by reminding them of Christ and calling the sufferings 'His.' Therefore, prior to the consolation derives a comfort from the very sufferings themselves. For what joy can I have so great as to be partaker with Christ, and for His sake to suffer these things? What consolation could equal this?
 
"Paul was aware how great a thing he had said, adding with remarkable restraint, 'so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.' Thus at once ascribing all to Him, and proclaiming in this His loving-kindness also. He did not say, 'as great is our affliction, so great is our consolation;' but 'abundantly.' He does not say, 'our comfort is equal to our sufferings,' but, 'our comfort abounds,' so that the season of struggles was the season also of fresh crowns. For what is equal to being scourged for Christ's sake and holding converse with God, and being more than match for all things, and gaining the better of those who cast us out, and being unconquered by the whole world, and expecting such good things which 'no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined' (1Co 2:9)? What is equal to suffering affliction for godliness' sake, and receiving from God consolations infinite, and being rescued from sins so great, and counted worthy of the Spirit, and of being sanctified and justified, and regarding no man with fear and trembling, and in peril itself outshining everyone?
 
"Therefore, let us then not sink down when tempted. For no self-indulgent person has fellowship with Christ, nor sleeper, nor passive person, nor any of those who live lax and dissolute lives. But whoever is in affliction and temptation and journeying on the narrow way is near Him. For He Himself walked this way. He himself said, 'The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head' (Mt 8:20). So then, do not grieve when you are in affliction. Consider the One with whom you have fellowship, how you are purified by trials; and how great is your gain. For there is nothing truly miserable except to offend against God. Neither afflictions nor plots, nor any other thing has power to grieve the right-minded soul. Just as if you cast a little spark into a mighty chasm, you instantly extinguish it, so even a great and excessive sorrow easily dies away and disappears, if it falls upon a good conscience.
 
"Such then was the source of Paul's continual joy. In whatever was of God, he was full of hope. He did not so much as account for such great trials, but he grieved as a man not yet sunk."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 1.4-5
1 Peter 3:8-22

All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.   Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.   For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;   let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.   For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."   Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?   But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,   but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;   yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.   For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.   For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,   in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,   because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.   Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,   who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (ESV)
Prayer
O Christ, You have called on us to suffer that our consolation might also abound. Send us Your Holy Spirit that we might gain strength to confess You faithfully when called to account for the hope that is in us. Amen.
 
For the people on the eastern seaboard of the United States, who are recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Florence, that the creator God would grant strength in the recovery process
 
For Amy Drosche, who is recovering from brain surgery, that the physician of all those who are suffering would grant strength and healing
 
For all those suffering from chronic illnesses, that God would give them the strength to bear up under that burden and confess God's faithfulness in the midst of suffering, especially Joanna Karner (MS)
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
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¬© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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