Fellowship of Sufferings and Service

Introduction - Paul describes his life of suffering and service to the brethren at Corinth in the 11th Chapter of his second letter. Contrasting himself to contending "ministers of Christ," he says, "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours 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, thrice 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 watchings 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. (2 Cor 11:23-28)

Brethren, with these trials as examples can one of us testify to a like loyalty towardspartnership with and commitment to Christ? In our day of privilege we are not tested as Paul, or for that matter any disciple of that day. However, we must strengthen our minds and hearts so as to endure soundly in that day fast approaching, when all things will come under the rule of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come," "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim 3:1, 12) Our fellowship of sufferings and service is in this setting of a wasteland of true faith, where the cares of the world are paramount in mankind and false religion and her daughters devour men's minds to lead them astray. Paul's exhibition of courage and knowledge was forthrightly of "that Way." The way that glorifies Deity, perfected and surpassed by Christ, serves as our model.

Our fellowship in the Lord, between brethren and within our families is a foundation upon which we strengthen each other to gain the victory over the flesh and stand ready to give a good account to our righteous judge. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (2 Tim 4:7-8)

Our Sufferings - In partaking of the "fellowship of his suffering" we must first be "conformable unto his death" through baptism and then be prepared to "suffer the loss of all things" temporal. We must walk in light and according to light, counting our worldly possessions and pursuits as dung. (Phil 3:8-10) Christ's sufferings on the day of his death, the desertion of his disciples, the agony of fleshly pain, and the distraught emotions of abandonment may be reenacted with us in our last days. The joy that was set before him, that which gave him the strength to endure, is the same joy that will drive us to endure; drive us to his likeness that we may be partakers in his glory, in his resurrection, and his manifestation of Deity.

We are to endure grief, suffering wrongfully, suffer to be defrauded, but why? Because Christ was like-treated, for "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim 2:11-12, 3:12)

As Moses preferred to be known as one who placed his lot with God, we too must not let our light be dim. Daily denial of the flesh means denying oneself the pleasures of sin and asking as we awake to each new God-given morning, "What can I do today that will be pleasing to God and to Christ?" We must run our individual race with patience, laying aside the world and redeeming the time for godly activities. These include laboring in the ecclesial vineyard, visiting those with infirmities, the fatherless, the widowed, supporting the emotionally and fiscally needy and above all looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. The kingdom of God will be obtained through much tribulation.

We are strengthened by the experience of trial and suffering. Faith untested is uncertain but faith tested is as refined gold. "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)

Our Service - We are known by our works, "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works." (James 2:18) Works of service are many and must be our constant companion. They need not be "seen of men" but may be manifest in silence; the silent works of a smile, a caring glance, or a strengthening touch. With baptism we agreed to become servants of God, holy evermore, and a yokefellow with all Saints.

After Christ had washed his apostle's feet he queried them, "Know ye what I have done to you?" By example he explained that we would find joy if we would become servants to each other, not esteeming one above another, understanding that each of us has an important role to play in the body of Christ. First, there is knowledge and teaching, not only to our children but "those that oppose themselves." Teaching all peoples to observe all the things Christ has commanded and, LORD willing, He will bring them into the everlasting covenant.

In gentleness and without strife we are to teach the oracles of God, "diligently unto thy children, and [thou] shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 6:7) We are to memorize God's word, to "lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul," (Deuteronomy 11:18) so that they are ever foremost in our mind. With this mental resource as we encounter daily decision making, we can quickly recall the words of guidance and instruction from the scripture to make quick dispatch to the correct path forward, just as Jesus did during the temptations in the wilderness.

Next are the many duties of administering to the household and the character one should develop during the process. We are to be, "not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather...be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined...hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that...[We] can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:7-9 NIV) We are to pray always, to love one another, to exhort one another, to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We are to recognize that as a body of believers it is God who has distributed our talents among us. We have not personally gained them, and the seemingly least comely parts are necessary and on a par with all, so that "the members should have the same care one for another." (1 Cor 12:25)

Finally, we are to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)

Our Glorification - "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Rom 8:17-18)

Scott Cram
St. Louis, MO