Excerpt from "The Fellowship of The Suffering

Another tension we commonly hear people express concerns the challenge of trying to obey both Jesus’ Second Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and Jesus’ Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). While our intentions to share our faith with others may be nothing other than loving, those we share our faith with probably do not always interpret it that way. Thus we must seriously consider: Are our efforts at evangelism really loving if others do not perceive them as such? To better feel the weight of this tension, think of the last time someone from another faith or religious sect tried to convince you that their belief system was right or better than yours. How loved did you feel in that exchange?

Total confession: When I (Dave) am having a great day with my family or friends, and I see Mormon missionaries approaching me on the street or knocking on doors in the neighborhood, my first reaction is total annoyance. Can’t they just leave us alone! I think. And then my annoyance typically turns into total avoidance. “Quick, let’s cross the street before they make eye contact with us!” “Shut off the lights, and stay away from the windows so they don’t know we’re here!” Although there are many times when I’m eager to engage in interfaith dialogue, when my day is going well, the last thing I want is to be bothered by someone’s attempt to proselytize me.

Our personal experiences of being “evangelized” must cause us to honestly examine if our faith-sharing efforts as Christians are perceived and received any differently. While we’d like to optimistically hope so, we can’t be so sure. Thus, if we must share our faith with others as we are commanded by Christ, we must also consider how we can do it in a way that will be received by others more as a loving gift and less as a frustrating interference. This tension is not something we or anyone else can fully resolve, but it is something we must nevertheless enter into.

We’d like to posit a way forward for how the church, as a fellowship of the suffering, can better share our faith, so our actions and words may be best received by others as a real act of love. Our contention is this: sharing pain earns permission for sharing faith. Here’s what we mean. When we invest our lives deeply enough with our non-Christian family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, that they feel safe enough to express their pain and hardship with us, often we will be invited to share our faith with them. Perhaps this is what the apostle Peter envisioned when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let us offer you an example of this dynamic at work.

Recently, we heard the story of a young Christian couple (we’ll call them Adam and Lindsey) who had become great friends with another couple who lived down the street (Max and Tara). The two couples often hung out together and became close enough to even take a vacation out West together. While Adam and Lindsey never hid the fact that they were Christians from Max and Tara, they never brought the subject up in any kind of confrontational or awkward way. A year or so into their friendship, Tara’s mom suddenly developed cancer and passed away within a few months of her initial diagnosis. Tara and Max were devastated. And so were Adam and Lindsey. 

Instead of trying to offer an explanation as to why this happened to Tara’s mom, Adam and Lindsey just loved this grieving couple like they would like to be loved if the roles were reversed. They brought flowers and tokens of condolence, and sat mournfully alongside Tara and Max. They dropped off meals and even planned fun outings to try to help Tara and Max take their minds off this sad reality, even if it were only for a couple hours at a time. Then, after a few months, Tara asked Adam and Lindsey if they would pray for her and her family. While this took Adam and Lindsey by surprise, they gladly agreed to do so. Several weeks later, Tara asked Adam about how his faith helped him through some of the tough times he had experienced in life (which he had shared with Max and Tara before). Thus, without having to try to wedge the uncomfortable topic of faith forcefully into a conversation with this grieving couple, Adam and Lindsey’s sacrificial love and support, and vulnerability about their own heartache, opened the way for them to be invited to graciously talk about their Christian faith. Because Adam and Lindsey shared their friends’ pain, they were invited to share the reasons for the hope they had in Christ. Sharing pain earns permission for sharing faith.

We believe this story of Adam and Lindsey’s genuine, agenda-free friendship with Max and Tara, and their patient, gentle, and loving response to Tara’s loss is a powerful example of how believers can be ready and willing to “make disciples,” while doing so in a way that is welcomed. Yes, there undoubtedly are times when Christians must talk about their faith without being explicitly asked. But perhaps pain sharing like this is a different means by which the church, as a fellowship of the suffering, can more lovingly extend the invitation to experience fellowship with Christ to our neighbors both near and far, at home and at work. We believe this approach to faith sharing through pain bearing is demonstrated powerfully in the life of Christ and the writings of the apostle Paul.

*Taken from The Fellowship of the Suffering by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Copyright (c)
2018 by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove,

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  • 55175011?profile=RESIZE_480x480Jesus and Suffering

    Thus, when Jesus began his public ministry, he announced the good news of the kingdom as one who had been personally and deeply affected by the hardship of this world. He carried the same burdens as his neighbors, and endured the same crises and heartbreaks. He was truly a man of his people, Israel, a nation whose given name means “struggle,” which characterized their calling and plight in the world. Out of this family and life of struggle, Jesus announced good news. Out of this pain, Jesus offered himself.

    Perhaps the reason Jesus was so widely sought after throughout his ministry was not merely because of his compelling teaching or his miraculous healing powers, but because he understood the people he ministered to so intimately. People felt known by Jesus like they never had before. As the woman at the well said, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29). Who of us can be known apart from our pain? Jesus knew the people he shared the good news with, because Jesus shared their pain.

    Quite possibly, the most poignant, explicit example of how faith sharing is born first out of pain bearing is Jesus’ interaction with the thief on the cross. As Jesus endures the same, unimaginable capital punishment as these condemned criminals, it becomes clear to one of the two men that Jesus is not like them, or like anyone else for that matter. He is the Messiah. So with some of the last ounces of strength he has, this criminal cries out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). Just as Jesus was with this man in his suffering on the cross, so this man will be with Jesus in his glory. In the same way, could it be possible that the more we enter into and share the pain of our neighbors, the more our neighbors may have the opportunity to enter into and share the life of Christ with us? 

    *Taken from The Fellowship of the Suffering by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Copyright (c)
    2018 by Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove,

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