The Ministry of Suffering

The Ministry of Suffering November 6, 2018

The Ministry of Suffering

The Ministry of Suffering

Colossians 1:24-2:5

Suffering is a part of life. We always want a thing to be great and happy. But sometimes, things are not so great and happy in life. How is a Christian supposed to react to the pain and suffering of this world? Paul teaches us here in his letter to the Colossian church a lesson that we all need to learn. The act of suffering can be a ministry. It is something that God can use through you to help other people. Here, I want to share with you six ways in which you can minister to others through suffering.


1. I take joy in physical suffering

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, CSB)

The first way I can minister to others through suffering is the way I approach suffering myself. How do I react that things do badly in my life? How do I respond when I get that test result I did not want or expect? How do I deal with the troubles in my life?

Paul responded with joy. Remember that happiness is a result of happenings. Yet, joy comes from Jesus. When I happenings change, my emotions often change. The inner joy though comes from Jesus. As a Christian, I don’t need to let my sufferings take away the joy that I have in my relationship with Jesus.

Paul makes a very interesting comment about why he is joyful. He considers it a badge of honor because he sees his sufferings as a way to join with other Christians in hardships. He says:

“I have joy because, with my suffering, I am completing my part in what is missing in the church.”

It is an interesting statement. Paul makes it clear that there is a corporate dimension to suffering. This is one of the reasons I can take joy when I go through hard times. I am not alone. This brings me to the second way I can minister to others through my suffering.

2. I participate in the pains of the church

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, CSB)

I am not the only one who has pains and sufferings. You do. We all do. As individuals, we have our own “aches and pains,” struggles and challenges. But we don’t go through them alone. The church suffers sometimes too.

When that child dies in a family of the church, then we all share in that suffering. We all participate in the grief that the family feels. When that teenager commits suicide, it doesn’t just affect that young adult, and it doesn’t just affect that teenager’s family. The church body is hurt too. There is a corporate nature to pain. Psychologists call this “corporate grief.”

When something happens that hurts one family in the church, it hurts us all.

Yet there is also another way in which I participate in the pain of the church. The church body, the church family, can be attacked as well. Whether it is a terrorist attack or a spiritual one, the same pain can to come to all of us together.

3. I serve to give others hope

I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25–27, CSB)

We can learn something about Christian hope from fishermen. In Pavlov’s Trout, Paul Quinnett writes:

It is better to fish hopefully than to catch fish.

Fishing is hope experienced. To be optimistic in a slow bite is to thrive on hope alone. When asked, “How can you fish all day without a hit?” the true fisherman replies, “Hold it! I think I felt something.” If the line goes slack, he says, “He’ll be back!”

When it comes to the human spirit, hope is all. Without hope, there is no yearning, no desire for a better tomorrow, and no belief that the next cast will bring the big strike.

According to the Bible, the Christian life is also hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms.1

The mystery that Paul speaks of is the hope we have in Christ. The hope of glory is that my life will move forward in a more positive direction. There may be rocks and valleys, but the ultimate destination is a bright future for eternity.

But what is the connection between this hope and serving? As a Christian, I can’t be selfish with my hope. I need to be willing to share it. That is part of the purpose of the church. I am a servant of the church when I share this mystery, which is the hope I have in Jesus Christ with others. This leads me to the fourth way that I can minister to others through my suffering.

4. I labor to instruct others about Jesus

We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.” (Colossians 1:28–29, CSB)

I don’t just share hope. I warn and teach everyone. The eternal hope which will relieve my present suffering is through my faith in Jesus Christ.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CSB)

Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:23–24, CSB)

There is going to come a time when as Christians, we will be wrapped up in glory. Paul looked forward to this with hope. He also taught and warned people about this. He taught this to people who received Jesus. He warned others that if they didn’t receive Jesus, they would live without hope. That is why we warn people:

A sailor had just returned from a whaling voyage. He heard an eloquent preacher. Asked how he liked the sermon, the sailor replied: “It was shipshape. The masts just high enough, the sails and the rigging all right, but I did not see any harpoons. When a vessel goes on a whaling voyage, the main thing is to get whales. They do not come because you have a fine ship. You must go after them and harpoon them. The preacher must be a whaler!”2

That lesson is not just for the pastor. That lesson is also for the people in the church. Sometimes, we get the impression that we should just have better buildings. That we need to take care of the buildings that we have built for ourselves. The fact is that this property serves a greater purpose. It serves as a tool for us to labor. We labor in taking care of the building. But we must also use our buildings to teach and warn everyone. We also can’t stay here to do the work. We must also go out to the people.

We must go out to the people. Who were the people that Jesus went out to? Mostly, Jesus went out to the people who were suffering. He didn’t go to the powerful, who did not feel that they did not need Him. Instead, Jesus served those who needed help. As He continued, people started coming to Him. He went out, they came in.

Paul did the same thing, even when he was in prison. Epaphras, who wrote this letter for Paul, was from Colossae. Epaphras traveled over one thousand miles to meet with Paul. He took this letter back to the church.

This leads me to the fifth way that I can minister to others through my suffering, and that is in struggling in my prayers for others.

5. I struggle in prayer for others

For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ.” (Colossians 2:1–2, CSB)

When we think about suffering, we mostly consider the idea of personal physical or mental suffering. We concentrate mostly on our own aches and pains. Yet, Paul considered praying for others a similar struggle as personal pain. If I am going to use my suffering for others, it means empathizing with others by praying for them when they suffer. Perhaps the most important ministry you can do is to pray for other people who are suffering.

This leads me to the sixth way that I can minister to others through my suffering, and that is in struggling in my fight against false teaching.

6. I fight against false teaching

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 2:4–5, CSB)

I recall a story about a pastor who was concerned about some unsavory businesses that had opened near a school. His protests finally led to a court case, and the defense attorney did all he could to embarrass the Gospel minister.

Are you not a pastor?” the lawyer asked. “And doesn’t the word pastor mean ‘shepherd’?”

To this definition the minister agreed.

“Well, if you are a shepherd, why aren’t you out taking care of the sheep?”

Because today I’m fighting the wolves!” was the pastor’s quick reply, and a good answer it was.3

There is so much false teaching out in the world, that to stay with the simple Gospel of Jesus can be hard to do sometimes. The temptation is strong to be led astray. We all need to encourage each other in the fight for the faith. We need to help other Christians draw on their strength to fight against false teaching. Perhaps the most challenging way people will suffer is to stay true to Jesus. When I suffer as a Christian and point others to Jesus, I am using my strength in Christ to fight false teaching. My suffering serves a greater purpose than just my pain. It can point others to Jesus and strengthen their faith as well.

1 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 252.

2 Leadership Ministries Worldwide, Practical Illustrations: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 2001), 95. Originally from: Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas. Quoted in Knight’s Treasury of 2,000 Illustrations by Walter B. Knight, p.280.

3 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 124.

Photo by IV Horton on Unsplash

Other Posts:

Revelation 2:8-11 Suffering for Christ’s Sake

Suffering for God versus Short-Lived Pleasure of Sin

What Will You Do?

1 Peter 2:8-15 Christ-Like Influence

Mark 8:34-38 The Cycle of Discipleship


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!