Balance in Ministry to the Suffering


The balance (scales) of Justice is seen outside France's national assembly in Paris October 16, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau (FRANCE) - RTX9MO1

The balance (scales) of Justice is seen outside France’s national assembly in Paris October 16, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau (FRANCE) – RTX9MO1

2 Corinthians 4:17–18 (ESV) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

It is a reality, that those who have suffered, are often best equipped to others who are suffering. Especially if their sufferings are somewhat similar.

 

However, we also know that a doctor need not have suffered from the identical illnesses or conditions we might have, in order to effectively alleviate our suffering. Not every surgeon has had that same surgery we face. That does not disqualify him or her from operating upon us with the best of success. One need not have been poor, to know how to help someone whose finances are in disarray, nor must a doctor have had a baby in order to deliver one.

 

Nevertheless, there are times when someone’s experience with our particular suffering can be of particular use.

 

I once knew a pastor who was truly gifted in preaching and teaching God’s Word, and was a truly good and godly man.  However, he had hardly ever been ill in his life – and until stricken with an unusual infection, lacked a bit in compassion toward others in their illnesses. He had always been sympathetic, but through his experience become empathetic. But in truth, the spiritual comfort he gave still issued from the very same source – the Word of God under the ministration of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now it is also true that sometimes, we Believers can be guilty of tossing a passage like the one above at some suffering saint, in a most careless and matter of fact manner. We can try to remind them that that their affliction is but “momentary”, and thus “light.” But if we forget that the Apostle’s point here is that our afflictions are “light” and “momentary” in COMPARISON, to the eternal weight of glory about to be ours – if that contrast is lost, the words can be felt more like an insult if not a downright denial that we are truly suffering at all.

 

So my first point is that we need to maintain the context here, and use such portions of God’s Word as they were given, if they are to offer the maximum benefit. To use them in such a way that they are not dismissive of the very real and present pain one might be enduring. And then to help them, gently, to try and weigh the present distresses, against the coming glories.

 

That said, it might also be well for us to remember – and this is my second point, that the one who penned the above passage also penned this: 2 Corinthians 11:23–33 (ESV) Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

 

In other words, the one who wrote the first passage, knew suffering well. In a variety of ways few of us will ever experience. And at that, he knows well the sufferings of His Savior Jesus. And this man, so well acquainted with such suffering, is the one who gently brings us back to weigh our present sufferings in the light of the coming, eternal glories. Not as a disinterested promulgator of religious platitudes, but as a fellow sufferer – and one who shares this comfort with us – because it is the comfort he himself has taken advantage of so liberally.

 

Minister the Word to one another beloved – with tenderness and mercy, and in a balance that soothes the wounds rather than exacerbating them. This is the Spirit of Christ.

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