Ouch! That Hurt!
I am not a big fan of suffering. In fact I would rather avoid it if possible. I would chose a pain free life over the alternative any day. I'm with the Apostle Paul when he instructed Timothy to "[pray] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."
Of course Jesus said that the world hated him and they will hate us as well. Which means we don't need to go looking for trouble, it will find us. That's why suffering at the hands of other believers is so discouraging. Most of us have experienced it at some level or another, and depending on the severity and our threshold for pain, we either stick it out or leave. *Sigh*
This is where I struggle. If the church is the body of Christ, how can I in good conscience abandon her just because things get difficult? There are some who say that they haven't abandoned their faith just the church. But the church is the body of Christ. It is in the midst of the church that we demonstrate our love for Jesus. The church is the hands and feet of Christ, not the individual.
I don't want to diminish anyone's pain, because I know from experience how harsh the body of Christ can be. But what does Paul mean when he tells the Philippians that to truly know Christ they need to experience the power of his resurrection AND the fellowship of his suffering?
Paul tells the Colossians that he rejoices in his suffering for the sake of the church. I know that part of that suffering is from unbelievers, but he also suffered at the hands of believers. He doesn't make a distinction, but rather rejoices because his efforts promote the gospel and gives glory to God.
All I know is that people who give up on the church, even though they have faith, are not living in obedience. Even though obedience is difficult we are still to walk in it. This suffering is what was lacking in the suffering of Christ.
Jesus' suffering wasn't insufficient for the salvation and sanctification of the church. But suffering in this life is continual until the day of Jesus' return. When we suffer for the sake for the body of Christ we are continuing in Jesus' humility toward those who believe. In a sense we are filling what is lacking, and since we are the body of Christ, it is Jesus who suffers.
So how do we, who have suffered at the hands of the church, turn it around so that we are suffering for the sake of the church?
1. Rejoice. James says that we are to rejoice in our suffering because the outcome is godly character. Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice and not be anxious because God is in Control. Some times it takes stepping back and taking a deep breath to see and understand what God is doing in your suffering. But he is doing something. Don't disengage.
2. Restore. Seek restoration with those who have wronged you. This might mean asking or granting forgiveness. It might mean bestowing mercy if they are unrepentant. It might me swallowing pride and confessing where you might have been wrong. This isn't easy. It wasn't easy when I did it, and it won't be easy for you. But then suffering for the sake of the church never is.
3. Return. Find a church to fellowship with. It may be the one you left, or it may be another one. Whichever you chose it is imperative, obedience calls for it. We are not individually the church, and we can't live in fellowship with Jesus apart from his body. To think otherwise is to have fallen for a lie.
4. Re-engage. You are uniquely gifted to fill a role within the body of believers. You add to its fullness. If it needs a teacher, teach. If it needs a giver, give. If it lacks compassion, be merciful. Every believer has a gift to use, use it.
I am falling in love with the church again. Not because she is perfect. Not because I have found the secret to be pain free. Not because anything has changed (though maybe in me). I am falling in love again with the church because she is the bride of Christ. She is the body of Jesus. She is the vehicle God has chosen to express love to Him, to each other, and to the world. I am finding my first love again, and it is the best feeling ever. I'm just saying.
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." Col. 1:24