Sharing in Suffering

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Phil 4:10-20

The church of God today has lost its sweet-smelling. She has divided herself into classes; there are churches(meeting places) where only the rich go to meet, those that the poor go for fellowship, and those that are filled with Europeans, Americans and Africans explicitly. How, then would the affluent meet the needs of the poor? How will some who are suffering be known among the body of believers and meet each other’s needs?

Paul, as he is writing to the church in Philippi, considers not their gifts to him, but the fruit that abounds to their account. Gal 5:21 … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. Have we treated some members with dishonour because they are not presentable? Or are we considering each member with honour? If one member of the body suffers, do we all suffer together with it (him/her)? 1Cor 12:21-27.

Paul considers that while he was in need, the church at Philippi shared in his distress/suffering/need. Even when he was in Thessalonica-a place with a church, the Philippians cared for his needs. At this point, you may think I am only talking of supporting ministry people, but also all the individual members of the body of Christ. Paul is as you and I are, a member of the body of Christ, being our example of one who was in need. 

The Philippi church is an example of the rest of the body responding to the needs of one member. By ‘need’ I not only refer to financial need, but also all kind and manner of needs like sufferings, distress, tribulations and afflictions etc. Sure enough, if my finger is injured, my entire self is uncomfortable because of the injury on my finger. And I will do all I know and can to get it treated. The rest of the members of the body in their respective capacities will work together to this end.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually (1 Cor 12:26-27).

When we look around our circles of friends and family, there is at least one person who requires our help. It is usually refreshing to see a company of fellow believers by your side when you are suffering. A friend lost his six-day-old daughter, an overwhelming number of believers surrounded them in their grief, facilitating the hospital bills and the funeral arrangements. 

I remember some of us were astonished at the sight of men and women from all walks of life. The funeral was early in the morning on a working day, yet people turned out to comfort this young couple. Some offered them a place to stay; another just gave them a car (in Kenya cars aren’t the things you give out easily as such) to move around with, another offered a ten-day holiday to this couple for rest and refreshing of their souls in and through the grieving period. This experience reminded me of Acts 4:32-35. How was the early church so powerful in its outreach ministry? Within these verses, the answer lies.

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts4:31-37

One thing that comes out in these lines is that there was a great multitude of believers. The result of massive conversion was because of their outworking of love that God had wrought in their hearts. Jesus told the disciples the only way the world would know that they are His is by their love for one another (John13:35).

The answer we get then is that the church in Antioch where the apostles were first called Christians (Christ-like) had one heart and one soul. They had so much love for each other that the ministry in Antioch become successful. This reminds me of the love David and Jonathan had for each other that David’s soul was knit to the soul of Jonathan. He loved him as his own soul (1 Sam18:1). Christ’s love brings such kind of unity among believer. No wonder Paul admonishes Timothy that the aim of our charge is LOVE that issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Tim1:5). 

Paul elsewhere argues in Eph4:13 –till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. To the Church in Corinth he was much clear 1 Cor12: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

This love dominated Christ’s Prayer. John17:20&21 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

The Church at Antioch was united and loved one another as one loved himself. So how are we to respond when fellow Christians are in need? We are to get to suffer as they do and try all we can by ourselves to help them in and through their afflictions. Being a Christian means you are either yet to suffer, are suffering, or are just out of suffering for a little while this is our life, and we ought to stand by one another in love. God has called us to share in his sufferings as well as other believers’ sufferings. Look around, and you will see opportunities spread across where you, like many before, can be an instrument of encouragement and transformation in times of suffering. 

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