When we are suffering in a difficult situation, or working through a trial, or tempted by a besetting sin, one of the first things that we think is how alone we feel. We feel alone because we are the only person we know who is struggling with depression. We feel lonely because we don’t see other people dealing with chronic illness. We feel lonely because we want people to be right beside us as we work through something. And the easiest thing in the world is to blame the rest of the church for not knowing. For not understanding how we feel. For not struggling the same struggle with us. For saying things that were unfeeling. Do they not love us?
I’m sure all of us are familiar with the illustration that Paul uses about our different gifts being like different parts of a body. Some are gifted with one thing, and they do that on behalf of the whole body. But today I’d like to write about another aspect of this that we often don’t think about – suffering, temptations, afflictions, and any other kind of struggling. Whatever part of the body of Christ you are, your gifts are unique. And so are your struggles.
It is easy to find an abundance of articles accusing Christians of not handling the problems of others the right way. Whether it is “20 things to never say to a woman with a dirty house,” or “15 phrases to avoid using around childless couples,” or “10 mean thing churches do to single people” – it is easy to busy ourselves with itemizing the ways that other people failed to help us in our time of need. These sorts of articles always hit some kind of a mark too. People gather around them with praise and comments about how many stupid people said just this thing to them when they had just this problem.
Now I’m not differing with some of the actual advice in these articles – it may or may not be helpful. And I’m certainly not trying to say that we shouldn’t bother ourselves with trying to understand other people’s trials. We should. I’d just like to try to paint this picture differently for a minute.
The body of Christ is full of people who have problems. Each of us has our own unique burdens. Some of them might be obviously visible to anyone who looks – but it may very well be that you are carrying a tremendous burden and even your close friends don’t notice.
But here is the beauty of this – whatever burdens you are carrying, you are carrying them on our behalf. The fight you feel alone in – you are fighting it for all of us.
When the sorrow of infertility is pressing in on you and you turn to Christ, you are being Christ to us.
When you face depression, and turn your mouth to praise the Lord, you are being Christ to us.
When you lose a loved one and yet still bless His name, you are being Christ to us.
When you get the victory over petty sin – you are being Christ to us.
When your marriage falls apart, and though your are embarrassed and humbled, you faithfully confess and repent of your sins – you are being Christ to us.
When you fight through cancer in the joy of the Lord – you are fighting the physical battle for yourself and the spiritual ones for all of us. You are being Christ to us.
When some infection takes over a small part of the body – there is one place that the battle rages, but it is a battle that is being fought on behalf of the whole body. When that victory is won through the grace of God, it is won for all of us, and it ministers to all of us.
Often times in the wake of some tragedy, we are all shocked by the way the people closest to it bear up under it. A widow grieving, and yet still comforting her comforters. A mother of a child in a graveyard, ministering to the whole body of Christ not just through her bereavement, but with it. The way you handle the sorrows in your life is a means of ministering to others.
The truth is that the role of comforter is not the only way to be Christ to others. The role of the afflicted and still victorious is exactly what Christ was for us. Tempted in everything that we are, and yet not falling.
We need you. Not after you get over whatever thing it is you are dealing with and you feel ready. We need you to be getting through your burdens now, for us. We need you to fight faithfully, now, for us. We need you who have the best view of that threat that we are all facing – to fight it for us. This is a means that every Christian can use to minister to every other Christian.
Depending on your circumstances, this may sound harsh to you. Chances are good that if you have felt embarrassed of your temptations, or embarrassed of your situation, or simply alone and tired of fighting, that you don’t want to hear about how you can help us. You want to read a list of things that everyone is doing wrong to you. But remember – this principle means a lot more. You are part of the body of Christ – your problems are very literally our problems. We need your victory because it is ours, and you need ours because it is yours. We all have the victory - because we are His.
This is not something that we can attain to only if we are black-belt level Christians. All you need for this is Christ. He literally took all the battles we will ever face and ultimately won them for us. Never forget that He is the head of this body – he does know exactly what you are dealing with. He does feel the pain in a way that the rest of us simply can’t. He does know, and He is with you.