“Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”
Suffering includes any number of the following undesirables: loss of control, sadness or sorrow, fear, anger, rejection, shame, disappointment, grief, guilt, futility. Suffering can be described as prolonged physical pain that is attached to illness or injury as well as the unrelenting anguish that accompanies prolonged emotional and spiritual stress or discomfort. Though not something to be sought, suffering is an unavoidable consequence of living in a fallen and self-centered world (Genesis 3:7-10, 14-19). The rebellious nature of humanity is intrinsic and has, therefore, made suffering predictable. That which was incorruptible and immortal before the fall of humanity became corruptible and mortal after it. In God’s eternal Kingdom, this regrettable state of affairs will be reversed and suffering eliminated (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; Isaiah 25:8-9; 60:18-22; Revelation 21:3-5). Until then, all suffering is directly or indirectly linked to humanity’s resistance to the rule of God, however, it is not altogether without value.
The suffering to which Paul refers comes as a result of sharing the Gospel of Christ among people who are resistant to it (1:7-10). Different beliefs often collide and create tension between people, which, in a prejudicial environment, can lead to verbal and physical altercations and, sometimes, to oppression. The longer and more threatening the altercations, the greater the suffering among those holding the minority view. Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-36) was directly linked to the sinfulness of humanity—he certainly held the minority view—however, its value is found in the good that his suffering produced: the hope of salvation offered to the entire human race. Suffering is generally considered worthwhile if it occurs in defense of a universal or eternal principle. The name “martyr” is honorably given to someone who is willing to suffer and die for principle-sake. Biblical suffering invites God’s favor when it mirrors the sufferings of Christ who, while being insulted and rejected, remained faithful to the Judge and Guardian of our souls (1 Peter 2:19-25; 4:12-19).
Despite the cause of suffering, each experience with it demands endurance—it can last a few days or it can last a lifetime. This is what makes suffering so daunting. Though medical assistance and sound counsel can alleviate or eliminate some forms of suffering, there are other forms that defy resolve, such as those that are the result of unrelenting persecution. Whatever its cause or length, the dearest friend of the sufferer is the consoler or comforter—the best being someone who has passed through affliction, through words and acts of encouragement shares Scripture and ensures that basic needs are met, and who intercedes with God on the sufferer’s behalf (1:4, 6-7, 11). In so doing a comforter reflects the “God of all comfort” (1:3) who through Christ endured the affliction of the cross securing our victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 1 Peter 2:24), through the Father saves us and secures our inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-5), and who through the Spirit prays on our behalf when the words we need to express our deepest concerns cannot be found (Romans 8:26). With God and such friends, we possess an abundance of comfort equal to the task of enduring an abundance of suffering for the cause of Christ.
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