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by Jacob Ninan
Suffering is a part of this world, and we look forward to a suffering-free and joy-filled time in the new world Jesus is preparing for us. But while we are down here, most of our suffering is imposed upon us by people and circumstances, and we also suffer the consequences of our own sin or folly. God knows we don’t like suffering, and He protects us from much of it (Ps.91:4). But He also permits some suffering to come to us so that, if we cooperate with Him, we can be refined and as a result become better people who are more like His Son Jesus. His own Son was ‘perfected’ through suffering (He.2:10), and He learned obedience through the things He suffered (He.5:8). And now we are also challenged to learn through our sufferings, and not to think of them as if something strange was happening to us (1Pe.4:12).
But there is also suffering that some people voluntarily choose for themselves in order to be a blessing to others. Jesus is the greatest example in this. And a great many of His people are also examples, serving Him in some capacity or another. The way some people serve God can be seen openly, but many others are also serving God in different ways, e.g., a mother seeking to bring up her children for God, that may not be recognised as such. But we can be sure that God takes notice of every single one of them. They serve Him out of their love and gratitude to Him who gave them His own life through suffering and shame to save them from destruction and ruin. Such people do not think that their suffering is too much in comparison to what they have received from Him (Ro.8:18).
A third group of people seek to serve those who are going through suffering whether the suffering is a natural result of living in this world, or because they have voluntarily chosen to suffer in order to serve God. They may be referred to as caregivers, supporters, donors, or helpers, but these too are serving God indirectly by serving God’s servants.
The essential qualification for all this serving is what we see in 2Cor.8:1-5. We read here about the Christians in Macedonia who were themselves going through affliction and poverty, but who took great delight in being liberal giving for the sake of Christians in need. The secret behind this liberality was that they first gave themselves to the Lord.
If this secret ingredient is missing in our life, all our service, giving, helping, etc., will be hollow, and be found worthless in the eyes of the Lord. We may do all this to get some honour or recognition from other people, to leave a name behind us, to satisfy our desire for feeling important, etc. But only the service we give God because we love Him and want to honour His name will count in eternity.
Our serving will surely involve some suffering for ourselves. That is something we will have to voluntarily choose. This is in addition to the usual suffering there is in the world. If we serve only with the leftovers, after we have enjoyed ourselves to the full, or with the surplus, where we will not miss anything when we give, it shows that we have not yet fallen in love with the Lord who gave Himself for us. We may be thankful to Jesus for dying for us, but we are not so in love with Him that we are willing to die (suffer) for Him!
The example of the Macedonians also challenges us to serve God in spite of the sufferings we ourselves may be going through. Who doesn’t have problems? If everyone waited for everything to become nice and smooth, there wouldn’t be anyone available to serve one another!
There is no compulsion to serve or give. If we think we have to give something to God if we want to get some blessing from Him or to avoid getting Him angry with us, we have still not understood the new covenant! He has given us everything freely. If we still think that everything we have is for us to decide what to do with, we have not understood how we have received everything freely from Him. But after all is said and done, it is more than a matter of accountability or ownership. It is a matter of how much we love Him, and how much we want to show our love to Him.
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