Dr. Kenneth Haugk in his book on how to relate to those who are suffering entitled Don't sing songs to a Heavy Heart has a chapter on what the Bible has to say about suffering. The last part of that chapter has a section titled "The Fellowship of Suffering. What follows is a look at what he has to say.
The Bible speaks:
So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5)
Here the Apostle Paul is teaching that the church is like the human body, with each having many members offering a unique giftedness and performing different roles and function. At the same time the human body, like the body of Christ, the church, is unified in purpose. Believers are always part of something bigger than themselves. The New Testament does not describe Christians as loners or mavericks. Instead, each Christian is united with others to form one body.
That's why Paul can say that Christians within the family of God sons and daughters, brothers and sisters -- have the same experiences as we all have within our human families like these:
- If a daughter experiences great success, the whole family is energized by her accomplishment
- If a son soles a best friend, all family members are touched by that loss
- As a member of the family you bear what the family bears.
The Bible speaks:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).
The church, The Body of Christ, has been designed by its Lord to function in the same as he designed the human body to function. When your tooth or toe hurt, the whole body feels the pain and tries to do something to alleviate it. So it is in the body of Christ. When one member is suffering the most natural thing to do is for other members to feel the pain as well. Whatever feelings one has it is natural for other Christians to be right there in joy or sorrow. But don't expect the hurting person to send you an invitation. Take the initiative yourself.
The initiative and action Paul proposes point to empathy, to "feel with" the other person. Paul says:
- "Rejoice with those who rejoice"
- "Mourn with those who mourn."
Notice Paul says to rejoice with the person who is rejoicing. He doesn't say to rejoice with those who mourn because it will make them feel better. To empathize with some one is to come along side them and feel and experience what they are feeling and experiencing. When one is rejoicing, rejoice with them. When one is mourning, mourn with them. Remember Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus? He was weeping with those who were weeping.
The Bible speaks:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11).
You share in community when you participate in the sufferings of another brother or sister. But you are called also to participate in the sufferings of Christ. How? Didn't Jesus suffer for us on the cross? How do we participate in it now?
Jesus did take upon himself all the sins, sorrows and sufferings of the world on the cross, but as long as there is sickness and sadness in this world, Jesus still suffer along side those he loves. He also invites?even expects?us to share in his suffering. This is not just a one time event, but it is a daily, ongoing experience. Part of what it means to participate in Christ's suffering is to share in the sufferings of others. You participated in Christ's suffering s when you
- come alongside a hurting person and offer them the blessing of your presence
- weep with those who weep
- die to yourself so you can fully enter another person's pain and suffering.
You may never be fore Christlike than when you participate in the sufferings and sorrows of a hurting world. As you model Christ in ministry you become Christ to hurting people
Christ called his followers to live their lives after his pattern which includes pain and suffering. Rather than minimizing or denying the hurt, Christians are most Christlike when they enter into the hurt and pain, not to be consumed by it, but to help bear the burden as Christ came to bear our burden. Then Christ becomes alive in you and in the person to whom you offer care.