By Tim Frank
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Carthage
After a major medical crisis in my life, I received the following advice. Don’t waste your suffering. The person giving these words was not being insensitive, nor was he telling me to just get over my suffering and quit whining.
No, he was sharing with me an important biblical principle of suffering — use the comfort you have received to comfort others in their suffering. In fact, he went on to say that my greatest ministry would possibly be rooted in my specific experiences with suffering. Today, over 15 years later, his words were very prophetic.
In today’s passage, the apostle Paul shares this very fundamental truth in suffering: As God comforts us, we are to comfort others. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to look beyond our suffering and realize the impact we can have in the lives of others. Jesus instructed His disciples, as they were being sent out in ministry, “Freely you have received, freely give.”
Where does comfort come from? First, it comes from God (II Corinthians 1:3-4). He is the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. He is the One who comes alongside us through the Holy Spirit. We sense His presence and know He is with us. He brings to our mind reassurances from His word of His love and care. He promises He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He invites us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). God is the ultimate source of all comfort.
Secondly, comfort comes from those who have received God’s comfort (II Corinthians 1:4-7). We pass on to others what we have received from God. The painful sufferings we experience may be the avenue through which God uses us for His glory and the comfort and help for others. As Paul writes, the hope is that as we share in the sufferings of others, we may also share in their comfort. For example, a couple who experiences the suffering of dealing with a child addicted to drugs may be used by God to reach out with hope and compassion to other couples with addicted children.
A third source of comfort is in the testimonies of others as they recount how the Lord gave them strength. In II Corinthians 1:8-11, the apostle Paul shares a very trying time in his life and the faithfulness of God. He was confident that, as God had delivered him in the past, God would deliver him again in the future. We gain courage and strength through the faith and trust of others as they share their experiences with God.
A good example is GriefShare, a Christian-based support group which shares the testimonies of people in their grief experiences for the purpose of providing comfort and help to others who have lost loved ones in death.
There is comfort in knowing others have walked the path of suffering ahead of us. However, it is important to remember that no two persons have the exact same experiences. There are common elements which can be of comfort and help, but each person’s suffering is unique to that person.
A final source of comfort is from the prayers of people on our behalf. There is power in intercessory prayer. Paul tells the church in Corinth that their prayers were a great help to him (II Corinthians 1:11). James 5:16 reminds us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
Don’t waste your suffering. There is someone you can pray for, encourage and comfort today.