The Tension Between Faith and Works

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Throughout the Bible there are realities that cause a great amount of tension. When we think about tension, what comes to mind?

A struggle? An uncomfortable situation? A tug of war?

Oftentimes we see two realities in Scripture that tend to pull us in two different directions. They aren’t contradictions, but rather they are two truths that we must live in balance of. A tightrope has no slack in it. It is the tension between the two ends of the rope that allow for someone to walk across.  These truths, anchored on opposing ends like the tightrope, create the tension for the straight and narrow tightrope that is the Christian life.

Our first set of Tense Truths is a very well known one: Faith and Works. In this I seek to show you three things:

1.) Workless Faith is Not Faith

2.) Faith and Works Cannot Be Separated

3.) True Faith Produces Works.

Consider the words of James in our main text:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.– James 2:14-26

Let’s examine this text and see how we live in the tension of faith and works.

1.) Workless Faith is Not Faith (vv.14-17)

From the text we can see that we have to have works in order to have faith. James begins this section by asking what the point of faith without works is. He gives an example of helping the poor. Verse 15 begins his illustration by speaking of a brother or sister who suffers lack. If we look at them and say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” but then turn around and do not give them what they need, there is no good in that. I would venture to say that it’s hypocrisy.

Think about the words of Jesus in Matthew 25. He speaks of a separation of sheep and goats on the last day, with the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.. When he turns to the sheep, this is the exchange:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’– Matt 25:34-40

On the Day of Judgment, Jesus is commending those who cared for the poor. We also know that the early church practiced giving needed provision to their own poor (Acts 2:45). It stands to reason, then, that a sign of Christian faith is caring for the poor, especially those who are brothers and sisters in the faith.  James is addressing the lack of help coming from those who only lean on faith. They do not speak of their works, but only their faith, and use it as an excuse to not engage in good works. He goes on to say in verse 17, So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

The end of Matthew 25 helps us understand what dead faith is. We now see what Jesus has to say to the goats standing to the left of His throne:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”- Matt 25:41-46

What sin damned the goats to an eternal punishment in hell? It was NOT caring for the poor, not engaging in good works. While they were certain that they would have served the Lord if they had seen him needy, they did not show their faith in God by caring for the least of these. Paring this parable with James’ words about faith being dead without works indicates one very important thing: these people were not Christians.

This does not mean (as you will see a bit later) that works are needed for salvation. Works are PROOF of salvation. Therefore, if there’s no works, there’s no faith. And if there’s no faith, there’s no salvation Need more proof? John has some. He says in 1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” We can’t dance around this notion. If we claim to be Christians, yet don’t have good works (especially toward our own), then there is no way we are saved. You cannot have one without the other. This leads us to an illustration I am going to use for this post.

Most of us have a vehicle of some kind. We drive them just about every day. If I told you that I was driving, and yet I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my car with the car in park, the keys removed from the ignition, and my hands off the wheel, would you not say that at that very moment I was either crazy or a liar? I would claim to be driving, and yet the facts would speak against me. So too are those who say they have faith, and yet they have no works. Their faith is dead. It is one that does not save. The moving car is our faith, and the components necessary to make it go are our works. The car cannot drive if we do not drive it. You have to work the car in order to drive. You can’t go anywhere unless you do.

2.) Faith and Works Cannot Be Separated (vv.18-20)

James brings up an objection. In true intellectual fashion (much like Paul), he poses the very objection that he has run into concerning this issue. He says in verse 18, “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” If we stay in step with our car analogy, then this would be like saying that you have a car and I have the keys. James then tells us, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” He’s saying, “ Show me your car apart from your keys, and I’ll show you my car driving down the road.” How much sense does that make? If two people you knew were talking, one saying “look at my keys” without the car, and the other saying “look at my car” without the keys, wouldn’t you think that ridiculous? So is the idea of having faith without works.

He follows that up by saying that even the demons believe and are afraid (verse 19). Why bring that up? What does that even mean? What do demons have to do with this? James is conveying here that mental assent is not the fullest extent of our walk with God, as even the very enemies of God believe that he exists. Rather, our belief must be paired in the works that we do. We cannot separate them. Do you see demons help the poor? Do you see evil spirits rushing to do good works? Of course not! But they believe, don’t they? Yes, they believe, but they aren’t saved. James is telling us that if your faith is separated from works, you’re no better off than the demons.

James now brings down a chastisement of sorts. He is setting himself up in verse 20 to bring out his own example from Scripture concerning how faith and works go together.  A good way to bridge this is by recalling the words of Paul in Ephesians:

8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”– Ephesians 2:8-10

Paul makes it clear that faith and works go together and, as we will see in the last few verses of our text, true faith will produce works that God has already set aside for us to do.

3.) True Faith Produces Works (vv.21-26)

James brings out as an example two noted figures in Israel’s history: Abraham and Rahab. Both are noted for their works unto God.

Now there is some troubling wording here from James, as he says that Abraham and Rahab were justified by works. But we know from Paul that we are justified by faith alone. So, is this a contradiction? Is James refuting Paul?  Absolutely not.

If you break apart the story of Abraham, you will see that he was called righteous before he ever did anything for God (Genesis 15:6). Yet James specifically mentions Abraham offering Isaac as sacrifice as his act of obedience to God (Gen. 22:9-10). Abraham was clearly declared righteous LONG before he was commanded to sacrifice his son. This coincided with Paul’s words on faith in Ephesians. The initial saving righteousness of an individual is called Initial Justification. Abraham was initially justified by his faith in God alone. Then, James speaks about what we will call Final Justification, which is when we are declared justified by God on Judgment Day. Works play into Final Justification as a confirmation of the Christian’s faith in life.

The key to the balance of faith and works, as well as initial and final justification, is found in verses 22-24: You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

So Abraham was counted as righteous the moment he believed, and we saw the proof of his belief by his obedience. Rahab had a similar situation. In both cases, evidence in works showed that they possessed the faith that was necessary to save them. It was not faith by itself, nor works by themselves. They work together, and cannot be separated, as true faith will produce works.  James reiterates this point one more time in verse 26:  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

We must live knowing that we can’t stay on one side or the other. We must live in the tension between faith and works and resist the pull that would on one side say “You have faith, you don’t need to do anything else.” We must equally resist the other pull that tell us “It’s not enough to just have faith. You won’t be saved unless you do works.” Yet we must understand that we are saved by faith, and that saving faith will produce works in us that will confirm that our salvation is from the Lord, and that we are indeed his children.

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I Can Do All Things (MBV#3)

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In an earlier post I mentioned that we live in a day and time that thrives on Bumper Sticker Theology: if it’s quotable and can fit on a coffee mug, we love it.

No verse fits that description more than Philippians 4:13.

It’s slightly different depending on the translation, but most people quote this verse as ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Oh, the ways this verse has been used! We have seen it just about everywhere and even the youngest Christians know this verse. Athletes, singers, and other Christian celebrities often cite this verse as a means to explain how their hard work and perseverance has paid off and that it was Christ’s strength that enabled them to get to where they are today. While that may be true, this verse does not fit with that notion. There are other verses in Scripture that do testify to the fact that we can do nothing without Christ, but Philippians 4:13 isn’t one of them. People simply use this verse to express that idea, but they have unknowingly separated it from what it really means. The way it is used today often implies that, thanks to Jesus, we are basically Superman.

So, what does it mean? As always, let’s look at the context.

The letter to the Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul from a Roman prison. You wouldn’t know it by reading it, but Paul is in chains and his life expectancy has grown uncertain. In this letter, he gives great encouragement and instruction to one of his most beloved churches. He is truthful about his hardships, but nevertheless his tone is one of joy and gladness. Let’s see what he was talking about in chapter 4, starting with verse 10:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.- Philippians 4:10-13

By backing up three verses, our verse in question once again takes on a different meaning.  Paul isn’t saying that he can do whatever he puts his mind to because Christ gives him strength. Rather, when you look carefully at his statements, he is saying that he can make it through whatever situation he finds himself in. Paul is content with the state of his life, because he knows the One who has guided him there. He has learned this in moments of joy and moments of pain. He can be full, or starving. Rich or poor. Safe, or in danger. Healthy or sick. Paul can make it through “any and every circumstance” because he can do all things through Him who gives strength.

Do you see it, now? This isn’t a verse for doing well on exams, or being successful at life. No, this verse is for the circumstances and situations in that life so often brings. So how, in this context, should this verse be used?

My unsaved family hates my Christianity and fights me every way they can  (I can do all things through him who strengthens me).

Someone very dear to me has passed away (I can do all things through him who strengthens me).

The professors at my school target me because I am a Christian (I can do all things through him who strengthens me).

Those statements above reflect the difficult times in life, where you know that there’s nothing you can do about your situation but push on. They aren’t moments of temptation or accomplishment. Instead, they are moments of endurance. This verse helps us realize that whatever situation we’re in, we can make it. We can learn to be content, no matter what circumstance we face. This verse tells us the kind of situation we can make it through.

We can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

 

 

A Word About Legalism (Phil. 3:1-11)

In the Church today, we throw the word “legalism” around quite a bit. I would even go so far as to say that it has become a Christian Buzz Word (CBW) in recent years. But do we really know what that word actually means? Where do we see the concept in Scripture?

First, let’s define the term. Legalism, for the Christian, is any standard that is taught that goes beyond what the Word of God has commanded. It is self-righteousness. We see no clearer example of this than with the Pharisees. During the Intertestamental Period, the Pharisees and religious elites of Israel added 400 of their own commands to the commands originally given by God to the Israelites. These commands went way beyond what the Lord Himself had deemed necessary and placed even heavier burdens on the people, thus constraining grace. You see this throughout the Gospels.

Paul deals with this issue directly in Philippians 3. He begins with this in verses 1-3:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul is speaking about a group of Jewish Christians called Judiazers. Their teaching, which was that Gentiles must be circumcised like Jews in order to be saved, was one of the first teachings condemned as a heresy by the Church (see Acts 15). By teaching this, the Judaizers were imposing legalism upon Gentile converts to Christ. Paul goes so far as to call these people “dogs” (a Jewish insult) and “evildoers,” telling us that these people and their teachings were no good at all. Paul goes on to say that the sign of salvation (which is what circumcision was formerly regarded as) lies in believers who worship by the Spirit, glory in Christ, and put no confidence in the flesh, or in our own abilities. Paul then continues his case against this form of legalism (v.4-6):

Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul gives his “spiritual pedigree.” He lists all the ways that, by his flesh, he has reason for confidence. He followed the Law to perfection, was zealous for the Lord in persecuting the Church, and was an example to his fellow Hebrews. By his own works and self-righteousness, Paul was a model of obedience to the Law. Yet, Christ turned that all on its head. Look at what he says next (v.7-11):

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

How powerful is that? Paul confesses that everything he had ever done for the Lord was, as he puts it, rubbish. Trash. Meaningless. I’m sure he was agreeing that our own righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:4). We know that he dispels the notion for works-based salvation in Ephesians 2. Paul is testifying that works mean NOTHING. Not his. Not yours. Not mine.

He says that righteousness is not found in the law, but through faith in Christ. So, he was telling these Gentile converts that they didn’t have to be circumcised to be saved. Following the law doesn’t grant salvation. Faith in Christ alone is what does that. There is no work that can be added to the work of Christ. The work of salvation was accomplished at the Cross and confirmed by His resurrection.

We should beware that we do not add anything to what the Word says concerning righteousness, for that is legalism and betrays our trust in the work of Christ and the Word of God.

Legalism says you must work to be saved. Christ says it’s been done.

Legalism will bind your conscience to the conscience of others. Christ will set you at liberty to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Legalism is impossible to maintain. Christ’s righteousness covers all your sin.

Rest in knowing that thanks to Christ’s work we are free to obey the commands of God and are given the power to abstain from the works and impossible demands of self-righteousness.

 

Misquoted Verses #2: Touch Not My Anointed

**DISCLAIMER: This post is not about church discipline or the protocol and process of spiritual leadership. This post simply seeks to rectify the meaning of a verse of Holy Scripture that has undergone substantial misuse. Therefore, the point of this post is to enlighten the Body of Christ on the proper understanding and application of a portion of Scripture. Nothing more.**

 

A while back, I was wasting a significant amount of time on my Facebook feed, when I noticed an article about honoring pastors and leaders in the Church. Curious, I clicked on the article and began to read.

The implications of the article were ghastly. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. In essence, the article was saying that we should never question leaders that God has placed over us. Instead, we should always be in complete and total obedience to the pastor, no matter what. What verse was used to back up this non-biblical teaching?  Why, it was 1 Chronicles 16:22, which states ” Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!

Yes, when removed from the rest of the text, this passage seems to be a command to never move against God’s anointed. The conclusion that many come to in reading this verse alone is this: Since pastors and preachers are anointed by God, then this means we should never question leadership that God has ordained. My friends, I am here to say that this verse does not mean this in the slightest. Here’s some context:

When you were few in number,

of little account, and sojourners in it,

wandering from nation to nation,

   from one kingdom to another people,

he allowed no one to oppress them;

   he rebuked kings on their account,

saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,

   do my prophets no harm!”- 1 Chronicles 16:19-22

By merely backing up three verses, we can clearly see that verse 22 takes on a whole new meaning. If you go to the beginning of the chapter, you see that it is a time of celebration in Jerusalem, as the Ark of the Covenant had finally been returned to its proper place there. We see the the Ark being placed in a tent, and King David commands that worship should commence unto God for the return of the Ark (v.1-7). From there, they begin singing a song of thanksgiving unto God. This song lasts from v.8-36. The song recounts the works of the Lord, including God’s protection and provision for His people in their journey through Canaan to receive the land that God had promised for their inheritance. It is in the midst of this song we find the main text of our discussion.

Now knowing the context of v.22, we can clearly derive its meaning. The verse speaks to the fact that God rebuked and opposed all that would stand against Israel and their promise. The term “anointed ones” refers to the whole of Israel, the descendants of Abraham that God had set apart for Himself.  Similarly, the term “prophets” refers specifically to the leaders of Israel who were regarded as prophets (Abraham, Moses, various judges etc.). So, we see that these two terms speak to Israel collectively and do not indicate a warning against disagreeing with church leadership. While I absolutely believe that respect and honor should be given to pastors and church leaders (another post for another time), you can clearly see that is not what is meant here.

This verse is a prime example of poor study resulting in faulty application. I have personally heard ministers and pastors wield this verse to advance their agenda. Whenever a decision or statement was called into question, the minister in question would say something like, “You better be careful. The Bible says to touch not my anointed.”

That is bullying and intimidation, not biblical command. If a minister  (or even a church member) uses that verse to tell you that you are in the wrong for questioning a decision that was made, you might want to reevaluate whether or not you are in a healthy church. To be clear, I am not saying that you can be rebellious against your spiritual leadership. Yet if someone is using this verse to enforce authority, it’s best you leave that environment. Hopefully this short post has helped you see that this verse, like many others, must be used in its proper context.

When we misuse the Scriptures, disaster is sure to follow.

*This is a short post for Tuesday. Be on the lookout for my next post on Friday!!!*

Misquoted Verses #1: Judge Not

For my first established blog series, I have decided to write about something that tends to come up in Christian conversation judging-yousooner or later. If you read the title, you can see that the topic in question is Misquoted Bible Verses.

We live in a society that is seemingly obsessed with putting sayings and quotes on EVERYTHING: bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, journals, etc. Christians are especially bad about this. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a shirt that has a Bible verse or two on it, but there IS a problem when we read that verse and fail to understand its context.

Context is a big reason for my writing on this topic. If we take a single verse, pull it from its context, and start trying to use it to prove a point, we can make that verse mean anything we want. We can use them to bind people’s consciences, enforce a non-biblical standard, or even use them to excuse sin. Such is one verse we will be looking at today.

Ever asked someone why they are doing something (sin or otherwise) and they respond by saying, “Well don’t judge me. The Bible says to judge not.” As it happens, they are both right and wrong. Specifically the latter. Let take a look at the single verse the are speaking about:

 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”- Matthew 7:1

Reading that verse by itself seems to support the notion that we should never judge, yea? It seems to say that if we judge someone, we in turn will be judged. So, if we want to avoid judgement, we should never judge. But, there’s more to be said, as the text continues:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”– Matthew 7:2-5

Now we have the full picture. In his teaching about judging others, Jesus isn’t implying that we are to never judge. So what is he saying? He’s telling us to not be a hypocrite. Jesus is saying that if we use a standard (the Word) to judge that actions of others, we will in turn be judged by it. For a fun example, if I were to tell someone I knew that they should never ever drink Pepsi and that it’s bad to do so, but then turn around and drink a glass of Pepsi myself, I have done two things: I have proven myself a hypocrite and have also invalidated any credibility I had with that person.

Jesus had quite a vendetta against hypocrisy, calling the Pharisees out for it on numerous occasions.  Here’s one such occasion:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”– Matthew 23:13-15

As you can see, Jesus has very harsh words for hypocrites, saying that they will not enter heaven due to their corruption and their corruption of others. In reality, most people who cite Matthew 7:1 in defense of their own sin are in fact the very hypocrites that Jesus abhors and warns about.

In the latter portion of our main text, Jesus makes another analogy concerning hypocrisy. He speaks of someone with a log in their eye insisting that another person with a speck in their own eye remove said speck, while the log remains in the. Jesus chastises, saying that the hypocrite with the log in their eye remove their hindrance first. What does this tell us?

It sets up a standard of accountability.

By taking care of our own “logs,” we are then able to aid a brother or sister who is dealing with a speck. Yet, it setting a standard of accountability, Jesus does one other thing. Notice how the other person’s sin is called a speck and your own sin is called a log? It’s Jesus’ way of telling us to ALWAYS consider our sin bigger and more grievous than our brother or sister’s.  We must never insist that our sin is lesser than another’s. Instead, we must always consider our own sin greater than those around us. We find this also in the words Paul wrote in Romans 12:3, “ For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

So, what’s the ultimate takeaway here? It is that we should live a life obedient to the Word, not marred by hypocrisy, considering our own sin greater than another’s and in so doing becoming freed to help each other overcome sin by the power of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. The standard we use to measure others will be measure to us. Jesus would have us be sure that we are to living in obedience.

“Judge not” does not stop us from holding each other accountable. It reminds us to check ourselves according to the Word of God.

In other words, Jesus wants you to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Post is on Suffering and Comfort.

In reading through the Bible the other day, I came across this peculiar passage.

This is the very first thing Paul says to the Corinthian church in his second letter to them. He wrote the following:

 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.-  2 Corinthians 1:3-7

It’s interesting to see these two things put together like that. After all, no two aspects could be more opposite than suffering and comfort. Yet, according to Scripture, there is a profound connection between the suffering and comfort of a Christian.

I was at first reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 8:16-17, which tell us that we share an inheritance with Christ if we also share in his sufferings. You can make that connection with verse 5 of our main text. It seems that Paul is continuing the notion that Christians will, in fact, suffer. This isn’t a popular thing to discuss nowadays, yet the Bible mentions it a good bit, so we have to deal with it. In this passage, Paul joins suffering and comfort together as two common realities of the Christian life. This leads us to the primary question of this text: How can any comfort be found in suffering? In order to answer that question, we need to examine its parts.

What is meant by suffering?

When the Word uses the term “suffering,” it is not referring to just any kind of suffering, but that which is distinctly Christian. In order to describe Christian suffering, we must understand that it is multifaceted, meaning, it takes on many forms. We also need to understand that just because something bad or negative has occurred, it does not mean that you are experiencing Christian suffering.

Christian suffering is that which the believer endures in their pursuit of Christ and in their work for the Gospel. We can find no better example of Christian suffering than the very person who penned the words of our text: the Apostle Paul. His life was marked by suffering. So much, in fact, that his detractors attempted to use it as evidence to prove that Paul was not called of God. That’s actually what quite a bit of 2 Corinthians is about.

Instead of countering this claim with another, Paul simply turned this objection on its head. He turned his sufferings into a badge of authority in Christ. He had endured suffering, just as Christ has said His followers would. Suffering was undeniable proof of Paul’s apostleship. He faced riots, stonings, shipwrecks, sickness, and other maladies and forms of persecution. It could be argued that no one else suffered for the sake of Christ like Paul.

So, looking at Paul and the other apostles, and seeing that they suffered greatly in pursuit of Christ, it is safe to say that suffering will mark the life of a Christian. But how does comfort play into all of this?

What is meant by comfort?

Clearly, we aren’t speaking of ordinary comfort. Paul is not saying that some suffer so others can take a nap or get into some comfortable position. We don’t get to excuse ourselves from the work if someone is suffering. We don’t get to stop and put our feet up. 

No, what is meant here is a type of strength and encouragement to continue the work that was started. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Comforter.” As you may well know, the Spirit doesn’t come to us and give us a blanket and a pillow and put on our favorite movie. He doesn’t make us comfortable, but we are comforted by Him. He gives us a renewed strength to face what we need to. He comes to us and grants peace and many of the fruits of the Spirit. So, if we are being comforted, it’s not on a TemperPedic mattress. It is through strength and encouragement brought to us by the Holy Spirit.

So, then, how can any comfort be found in suffering?

We find the definite answer in verses 6 and 7 of our main text. Reading those verses suggest that Christians will pass back and forth between the realities of suffering and comfort.  Seeing some  suffering for the faith encourages other Christians, knowing that suffering does in fact mark the life of a Christian. Then, when we ourselves go through suffering, it is our suffering that will encourage others, and we will draw comfort from those who are being comforted and from our own past experiences of comfort. 

So, whether you are in comfort or in suffering, know that it isn’t unique to you. God has said in His Word to expect these things and that they are for the benefit of all. Suffering doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. It may very well mean the opposite. With this know that where suffering is, comfort is not far behind.