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Does suffering serve any communal purpose?

Trials and afflictions have a levelling effect among believers. It has often been said that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” That is, regardless of our wealth or power or station in life, we are all alike in our need for a Saviour  In the same way, we are all alike subject to adversity. It strikes the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the superior and the subordinate, all without distinction. In times of adversity we tend to set aside such notions of “vertical” relationships and relate to one another on a horizontal level as brothers and fellow sufferers. John could have rightly identified himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, as one in a position of spiritual authority over the suffering believers in Asia. Instead he chose to identify himself as a brother and companion in their suffering. Trials and afflictions also have a mutual drawing effect among believers. They tend to break down barriers between us and dissolve any appearance of self-sufficiency we may have. We find our hearts warmed and drawn toward one another. We sometimes worship together with another person, pray together, and even serve together in the ministry without ever truly feeling a bond of fellowship. But then, in a strange way, adversity strikes us both. Immediately we sense a new bond of fellowship in Christ, the fellowship of suffering.
- Jerry Bridges
(Source: Trusting God)

This is wonderfully expressed. In the book, Jerry Bridges helpfully notes that St Paul praises God in an interesting fashion in his second letter to the Corinthians : "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God".  He observes the three-fold nature of God's comfort. First, God comforts us. Secondly, God comforts us in our troubles. And Finally, the purpose of our comfort is that we may comfort others. In other words our afflictions are not just for ourselves, but so that we may comfort others. We must never waster our suffering but must rightly recognise that part of the wonder of the Christian calling is that we have not only joined the fellowship of love and happiness but also the fellowship of suffering. We are to share our suffering as Christ has shared his suffering with us. In Jesus we are called to share the suffering of our Saviour by taking up the cross and denying ourselves. And so St Paul rightly says in his letter to the church of Colossae, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church". 

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