WELCOME to our final discussion on this topic which we have looked at over the past few weeks.
This is our last and final presentation on this subject and from next week we will discuss the topic ‘Justice for the poor and marginalised’ in society.
God also brings adversity into our lives to equip us for more effective service.
All that we have considered so far, pruning, holiness, dependence, and perseverance contribute to making us useful instruments in God’s service.
God could have brought Joseph directly to Pharaoh’s palace without taking him through prison.
And He certainly did not need to leave Joseph to languish in prison for two more years after he had interpreted the cupbearer’s dream.
Joseph’s difficult circumstances were not necessary just for him to be in the right place at the right time.
They were necessary to make him into the right kind of person for the responsibilities God would give him.
The Apostle Paul wrote that “God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Everyone faces times of adversity, and everyone needs a compassionate and caring friend to come alongside to comfort and encourage during those times.
As we experience God’s comfort and encouragement in our adversities, we are equipped to be His instrument of comfort and encouragement to others.
We pass on to others what we received from God ourselves.
To the extent we are able to lay hold of the great truths of the sovereignty, wisdom, and love of God and find comfort and encouragement from them in our adversities, we will be able to minister to others in their times of distress.
In commenting on Paul’s ministry of comforting, I have deliberately used the expression “comfort and encourage.”
The Greek word translated as comfort in our Bibles may mean admonition, encouragement, or comfort depending on the context.
Because God the Father is called here “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,” it seems our English translators have done well to choose the word comfort to express God’s compassion.
If we are to minister to others in their times of adversity, we must first of all show compassion, the deep feeling of sharing in the suffering of another and the desire to relieve that suffering.
If we are to really help another person in his or her time of adversity, we must also encourage that person.
To encourage is to fortify another with the spiritual and emotional strength to persevere in times of adversity.
We do this by pointing that person to the trustworthiness of God as it is revealed to us in Scripture.
Only to the extent that we ourselves have been comforted and encouraged by the Holy Spirit through His Word will we be able to comfort and encourage others.
Adversity in our own lives, rightly responded to, enables us to be instrument of comfort and encouragement to others.
The Apostle John, writing to the persecuted believers of the seven churches in Asia, identified himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering…that is our in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9).
The Greek word that is translated as companion means a “fellow sharer.” It is a form of the word koinonia from which we get our word fellowship.
John identified himself as one who shared together with his readers in the sufferings they were enduring.
He could understand their afflictions since he was at that time also suffering for the sake of Jesus.
John was partaker with them in their suffering and it was important to the effective communication of his message that they understand that fact.
In this verse, then, John introduces us to yet another way in which we profit from adversity, the privilege of entering into a special fellowship with other believers who are also in the throes of adversity.
Trials and afflictions have a levelling effect among believers. It has often been said that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
That is, regardless of our wealth, or power, or status in life, we are all alike in our need for a Saviour.
In the same way, we are all alike subject to adversity.
It strikes the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the superior and the subordinate, all without distinction.
In times of adversity we tend to set aside such notions of “vertical” relationships and relate to one another on a horizontal level as brothers and sisters and fellow suffers.
John could have rightly identified himself as an apostle of Jesu Christ, as one in a position of spiritual authority over the suffering believers in Asia.
Instead he chose to identify himself as a brother and companion in their suffering.
Trials and afflictions also have a mutual drawing effect among believers.
They tend to break down barriers between us and dissolve any appearance of self-sufficiency we may have.
We find our hearts warmed and drawn toward one another. We sometimes worship together with another person, pray together, and even serve together in the ministry without ever truly feeling a bond of fellowship.
But then, in a strange way, adversity strikes us both. Immediately we sense a new bond of fellowship in Christ, the fellowship of suffering.
There are many elements that go into the total concept of fellowship, as it is described in the New Testament, but the sharing together in suffering is one of the most profitable.
It probably unites our hearts together in Christ more than any other aspect of fellowship.
I’m reminded of one believer with whom I had a friendship for many years, but we were never close.
Then adversity struck us both. Our circumstances were different and his adversity was far worse than mine, but in our efforts to care for one another our hearts were drawn together in a new and deeper way.
So far we have dealt with various ways in which we profit from adversity.
In my first article on the topic of adversity, we have considered ways in which we profit as individual believers, but in the fellowship of suffering we are looking at a way in which we profit as members of the whole Body of Christ.
The Christian life is not meant to live privately in isolation form other believers.
It is to be lived as members of the Body of Christ.
God wants to use our times of adversity to deepen our relationship with other members of the Body, to create a greater sense of sharing together the life we have in Christ.
By REV. ERIC D. MAEFONEA