Suffering In A Vacuum: Partners In Trials and Companions In Suffering

Today’ selected passage continues in the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote from Rome unto the saints which at Ephesus. More specifically, today’s selected reading is found in the final four verses of both the chapter, as well as the epistle—verses twenty-one through twenty-four. When you come to the final four verses of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation you will find final parting words written unto this particular congregation. It is within these final four verses we not only discover who was with the apostle Paul during his imprisonment and time in chains and bonds, but we also learn who helped him write this epistle. In the final verse of this particular chapter we discover that Tychicus was with the apostle Paul during this time of imprisonment, and that it was Tychicus who wrote the epistle of Ephesians as the apostle dictated it. I have to admit that I am incredibly challenged by what I read in the final verses of this particular passage of Scripture, for within we encounter something incredibly remarkable. In fact—perhaps the single greatest way I can express what I find within this passage of Scripture is to ask the following question: Who is with you during your darkest moments? Who is with you when you find yourself in shackles and chains and are unable to escape your present situation? Who is with you when you appear to be going through the ringer and when you seem to experience and encounter difficulties on all sides? I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote on two separate occasions—the first of which is found in the fourth chapter of the second epistle which was written unto the Corinthian saints, and the second which is found in the eleventh chapter of the very same epistle. I would also include the words which the apostle Paul in the twelfth chapter of this same epistle, for what we find and what we read in this epistle is directly connected to what we find in chapters four and eleven. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul writes in the fourth chapter of this second epistle which he wrote unto the Corinthian congregation:

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, WE FAINT NOT; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselfs your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us WE ARE TROUBLED ON EVERY SIDE, YET NOT DISTRESSED; WE ARE PERPLEXED, BUT NOT IN DESPAIR; PERSECUTED, BUT NOT FORSAKEN; CAST DOWN, BUT NOT DESTROYED; ALWAYS BEARING ABOUT IN THE BODY THE DYING OF THE LORD JESUS, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also be Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. FOR WHICH CAUSE WE FAINT NOT; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. FOR OUR LIGHT AFFLICTION, WHICH IS BUT FOR A MOMENT, WORKETH FOR US A FAR MORE EXCEEDING AND ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:1-18).

Within this particular passage of Scripture we find the apostle twice emphatically declaring that he faints not—first in the fourth verse and again in the sixteenth verse. In the first verse we find the apostle Paul declaring that as a result of having this ministry, and as a result of having received mercy, he and his companions faint not. In all reality, I am convinced the apostle Paul was including the Corinthian saints in this particular declaration, for he was speaking of them concerning their own ability to faint not. IN all reality, I would dare say the apostle Paul was inviting the Corinthian congregation to faint not—even though they might be going through that which sorely and severely texts and tries their patience, their endurance, their faith, their trust, and their confidence. In verses seven through nine the apostle Paul writes of being troubled, he writes of being perplexed, he writes of being persecuted, and he writes of being cast down—all while bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. What is so incredibly powerful about the words which the apostle Paul writes unto the Corinthian saints is that he declares that although we might be troubled on every side, we are not distressed; although we are perplexed, we are not in despair; although we are persecuted, we are not forsaken; and although we are cast down, we are not destroyed. Later on in the sixteenth verse the apostle Paul goes on to once more write concerning fainting not, however, this time the apostle Paul also declares that though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day. What we read and what we find in the fourth chapter is actually quite remarkable, for the apostle Paul doesn’t deny or ignore the struggle(s) we all face and endure within and throughout our lives, but instead declares that even though we endure the various struggles we experience and face within and throughout the course of our daily lives, we are not destroyed nor overcome. It’s almost like that old clown that was weighted at the bottom—no matter how many times you hit it and caused it to fly backward and even come close to falling down, it would always bounce up and bounce back. Why? Why would it always bounce back and bounce up? The answer is actually quite simple, for it was weighted on the bottom, and it was that weight which kept it grounded and unable to fall. Perhaps the greatest question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we ourselves are weighted, and are such that regardless of how many times we are assaulted and assailed we are never knocked down or knocked out for the count.

The more I consider the words we find at the conclusion of the epistle written unto the Ephesian congregation the more I am reminded of the words which we find in the eleventh chapter of the second epistle which Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation. If you begin reading with the eighteenth verse of the eleventh chapter of the second epistle written unto the Corinthians you will find the following words written by the apostle Paul: “Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labour more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, t Brice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren: in weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities” (2 Corinthians 11:18-30). While it is true that within this passage the apostle Paul speaks of the overwhelming struggles he regularly endured and experienced throughout his life as an apostle and follower of Christ, what I would like to focus on is what he writes in the twenty-ninth verse. It’s in the twenty-ninth verse where the apostle Paul asks who is weak, and he is not weak. What’s more, the apostle Paul also asks who is offended and he burns not. In all reality, that which the apostle Paul was declaring was that despite the fact that he endured his own trials, his own struggles, his own conflicts, his own suffering in this life, he was still very much deeply connected to those within and among the churches. Despite everything the apostle Paul endured, he was still very much in tune and very much connected with the trials, the suffering, the affliction, the conflicts, and the like which his brethren endured and experienced. PARTNERS IN TRIALS! COMPANIONS IN SUFFERING!

There are two distinct passages found within the New Testament which help to further describe and confirm this reality of partners in trials and companions in suffering. In fact, the first is actually found further along in the New Testament, and is found within the first epistle which the apostle Peter wrote. In fact, if you begin reading with and from the twelfth verse of the fourth chapter you will find the following words: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:12-19). With what we read in the fourth chapter we find the apostle Peter instructing his audience to not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try them as though some strange thing happened unto them. In fact, it’s almost as if the apostle Peter was instructing his audience to expect and even anticipate suffering, affliction, fiery trials, opposition, persecution, and the tribulations we experience on a consistent and daily basis. In fact, I am convinced that we run into dangerous territory when we cease expecting and anticipating fiery trials and tests within our lives and begin living a jaded life where we cannot and should not face and experience anything. Remember the words of James which are found in the first chapter of the epistle which he wrote: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lac, wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraicdeth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavelets is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tosses. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:2-8).

As you continue reading the first epistle which the apostle Peter wrote you will find that he would go on to write more concerning suffering, but suffering as it was directly connected to the adversary the devil, who, like a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour. Consider if you will the words which are found in the fifth chapter of this particular epistle: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strength, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6-11). In the fourth chapter it’s as if the apostle Peter is instructing and inviting us to expect and even anticipate suffering, affliction, fiery trials, trouble, persecution, opposition and the like, and in the fifth chapter the apostle Peter goes on to to declare that the affliction we find ourselves experiencing are not common to us, nor are we alone in that which we face. What’s more is that I would dare say that regardless of what we might find ourselves going through at any given point in time, there are countless brethren all around the world who are experiencing the very same thing as we ourselves are going through. One of the most dangerous deceptions we find ourselves believing and walking in is that we are somehow alone in that which we are experiencing. We play a very dangerous game with our faith, with our trust, with our confidence and with our endurance when we think we are all alone in our struggles, our trials, our troubles, our conflicts, and the like. The apostle Peter emphatically writes and declares that the same afflictions we are experiencing are accomplished in our brethren which are in the world, thus revealing the tremendous reality that we are never and we have never been alone in anything we have gone through or experienced. One of the greatest tragedies men and women face within their lives is believing the lie and the deception that they are somehow alone in their trials and suffering, and that no one understands what they are going through. I promise that you are not the only one experiencing what you are going through, and I promise you that right now there are a number of your fellow brethren who are experiencing the very same thing you are experiencing. What’s more is that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes that regardless and in spite of anything we experience and go through within and throughout our lives—in addition to it not being exclusive to us alone—we also have a great High Priest who can associate with us. Consider if you will the words which the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote concerning Jesus the Christ: “seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

When writing the epistle of Hebrews the author emphatically declared that we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, which I actually find to be incredibly interesting. It’s worth noting that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews didn’t write that we do not have a high priest who can’t be touched with our infirmities, but that we have a high priest who can be touched with the “feelings” of our infirmities. In all reality, I am convinced that it is a far greater reality and concept to be touched with the feeling that is associated and comes with infirmities than the actual infirmities itself, for more often than not when anyone is experiencing something difficult within their lives their go to logic is always that others don’t know what they are feeling, or that others don’t know what they are going through, or that others don’t know what they are experiencing. The fact that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote that Jesus is our high priest who can be touched with the “feelings” of our infirmities means that He understands and associates with more than just the external, the natural and the physical aspect of our suffering, our trials, our afflictions, our troubles, our conflicts, our struggles and the like. We have a high priest who understands the deeper issue that is more often than not directly connected with and associated with our sufferings and struggles, for more often than not it’s not the struggle(s), conflict(s), trial(s), trouble(s) themselves that have the ability to destroy us, but the effect they have on us within the depths of our heart and soul. I am firmly convinced that it is not that which we experience in the physical and natural realm that truly seeks to destroy and do us in, but rather how we respond and react to what we experience. I am convinced that this is why the apostle Peter not only instructed us to not be surprised by the fiery trial which comes to test our faith, and why the apostle Peter reminded us that the same afflictions we experience are being experienced by our brethren within, throughout and across the world. As I am sitting here right now I feel compelled to emphatically declare unto you that when you experience any conflict, any struggle, any trouble, any trial, any suffering within your life—it is not that which you see in the natural and physical realm which you should be concerned with the most, but rather that which is experienced beneath the surface. If you know anything about icebergs in the ocean you will notice that more often than not it is not that which appears on the surface that is the most deadly and dangerous, but that which lies beneath the surface. More often than not we spend more time focusing on that which is on the surface in the natural and physical realm, and we completely ignore, neglect, and even reject what lies buried beneath the surface. When the Titanic sank several decades ago, it didn’t sink because of what was visible on the surface, but what lie beneath the surface which could not be seen by the natural eye.

I am reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the twelfth chapter of the first epistle which he wrote unto the Corinthian congregation. If you begin reading this particular chapter you will discover that it begins with the apostle Paul writing concerning spiritual gifts, and in all reality—seeking to correct their misguided understanding and notion concerning spiritual gifts. Within the first eleven verses of this particular chapter the apostle Paul writes concerning spiritual gifts, but when you come to the twelfth verse of the chapter you will find the apostle Paul transitioning from writing concerning spiritual gifts to writing concerning the body. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular chapter beginning with the twelfth verse: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much. More those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have mor abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Please don’t miss the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular chapter, for he emphatically wrote and declared that when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. In all reality, I am convinced that this is one of the things that is so desperately missing from the body of Christ in these Last Days. There is not a doubt in my mind that what is so desperately missing in the body of Christ during these Last Days is this association with suffering that is so vital and crucial for being a part of and interacting with the body. The apostle Paul held no punches when writing that one one member of the body suffers all the members suffer with it, and we would be incredibly wise to pay attention to the use of the word “all” in this passage. It would have been one thing for the apostle to write that when one member of the body suffers, certain parts of the body and certain members suffer with it. It would have been one thing for the apostle to write that when one member of the body suffers only a select few suffer with it. The truth of the matter is that the apostle Paul didn’t wrote that some members suffer with it, or even that certain members suffer with it, but rather, the apostle Paul used the word “all,” thus suggesting that we are all interconnected with each other—even in the suffering we face and experience. The apostle Peter wrote that the same affliction we are experiencing is being accomplished in our brethren all over the world, and the apostle Paul wrote that when one member suffers all the members of the body suffers. Thus, by making such a bold and emphatic declaration the apostle Paul was declaring that no suffering should ever take place in a vacuum,. No suffering should ever take place alone, nor should any suffering happen independent of those around us within the body of Christ. In fact, I am convinced that one of our greatest misdeeds within the body of Christ is allowing those around us to suffering in a vacuum and suffer independent of those around them. Even if those who are suffering might isolate themselves and might not actively seek out the care and concern of others. One of the most critical and vital roles any of us can play within the body of Christ is coming alongside those who are suffering and those who are seemingly going through it. One of the greatest problems facing the church today is that we allow those members among us suffer alone and we aren’t even aware of what might be going on in their lives. Oh how we need to be absolutely aware of the responsibility we have to our brethren—and not only those who are a part of the immediate body we are a part and members of—but our brethren all around us within and throughout the world. Imagine what it would be like if we could connect with our brethren within and throughout the world and truly walk with them in this life—even though we might not be in the same geographical location as they are. I can’t help but feel incredibly challenged to find a way to get connected to our fellow brother(s) and sister(s) throughout the world, and to truly walk with them within and throughout anything and everything they’ve experienced or are presently experiencing.

I can think of no better way to continue emphasizing this reality of being partners in suffering and companions in struggles than by bringing us face to face with the words which the apostle Paul writes in his various epistles. I feel compelled to begin and start with the words he wrote in the sixteenth and final chapter of the epistle written unto the Romans, for it is within that chapter where the apostle Paul writes concerning his companions and fellow brethren and ministers in Christ. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular chapter beginning with the first verse: “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the first-fruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. ASalue Andronicus and Julia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. Salute Typhena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persia, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Herman, Patrobas, Hermès, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you” (Romans 16:1-16). A similar conclusion is found in the final chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians: “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here. Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me, Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him records that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, and Delmas, greet you. Salute the brethren, which are in Laodicea, and Nyphas, and the church which is in his house” (Colossians 4:7-16).

I will leave you with a passage that is found in the Old Testament book of First Chronicles which describes two brothers who engaged two different enemies and adversaries who came up against Israel during the days of David king of Israel. If you begin reading with and from the sixth verse of the nineteenth chapter you will find the following description of two brothers—Joab and Abishai—who each engaged an adversary who had come out against Israel. Consider if you will the account of these two brothers beginning with the sixth verse of the nineteenth chapter: “And when the children of Ammon saw that they had made themselves odious to David, Hannah and the children of Ammon sent a thousand talents of silver to hire them chariots and horsemen out of Mesopotamia, and our of Syria-maachah, and out of Zobah. So they hired thirty and two thousand chariots, and the king of Maachah and his people; who came and pitched before Medeba. And the children of Ammon gathered themselves together from their cities, and came to battle. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men. And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array before the gate of the city: and the kings that were come were by themselves in the field. Now when Joab saw that the battle was set against him before and behind, he chose out of all the choice of Israel, and put them in array against the Syrians. And the rest of the people he delivered unto the hand of Abishai his brother, and they set themselves in array against the children of Ammon. And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, than thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will help thee. Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God: and let the Lord do that which is good in his sight. So Joab and the people that were with him drew nigh before the Syrians unto the batt; and they fled before him. And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, they likewise fled before Abishai his brother, and entered into the city. Then Joab came to Jerusalem” (1 Chronicles 19:6-15). Consider if you will the words which Solomon wrote in the fourth chapter of the Old Testament poetic book of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

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