When most believers think about the ways in which God has relieved suffering in the past, they usually refer to the many healings and miracles of Jesus.
Some may think of the times when the Lord sent one of His angels to help.
Others may remember all the miracles of healing that were performed by the apostles and prophets.
And usually the last way in which we consider that God relieves suffering is through other people, just like you and me.
It is here that I would like us to focus our attention this morning, for if we are servants of the Lord, then part of our job is to relieve suffering.
Let's begin by looking at an example that Ezekiel gives us of a father who brings about suffering and of his son who relieves it (Ezekiel 18:14-18):
14. "Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father's sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise.
15. "He does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife,
16. or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit robbery, but he gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing,
17. he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father's iniquity, he will surely live.
If we look at these last two verses only, it is easy to understand that helping the less fortunate with food and clothing can help relieve their suffering.
However, if this help is from an animal, such as with meat of leather, all we have done is cause another being to suffer.
This is not a miracle; it is a curse.
God has provided an abundance of plant products, which truly relives the maximum amount of suffering.
But how does not going after idols, or putting other things before God, help relieve suffering?
Do you remember what we've been talking about the last two weeks, about how God may allow us to suffer because we're not doing as He desires?
Biblically, as society begins to turn more and more away from God, God allows them to suffer more, in order to attract their attention.
The reverse is also true; for as people begin more and more to serve the Lord and as a result have less suffering, over time they can become more complacent.
So by the very fact that we live Godly lives, not just in church, but always, and thus set the example for the community, we relieve suffering.
And it's our collective consistency of faith that prevents us from going astray, because we set a reminding example for others.
But what about people like this son's father?
What happens to them?
18. "As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity.
This man was evil.
And in the process of doing the things he did, he has caused others to suffer.
And if others followed his example, many more suffered, including, in the end, those evil people.
As believing Christians, part of our job is to stand in the face of evilness and protect the innocent.
Itís not someone elseís job; itís ours.
And most importantly, it must be peaceful, for in the long run, violence only brings about more violence and suffering, and never a true peace.
This is what James is talking about, when he says that faith without works is useless (James 2:14-20):
14. What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
This is where many Christians go wrong.
They think that all it takes is to believe that Jesus is Lord and say His name, and they are automatically a Christian.
But to be a Christian, a real Christian, is to be more than just a believer; it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ, doing the things He desires us to do.
15. If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16. and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
Being a Christian is to be filled with love, even to overflowing.
And a person doesnít love, if he or she allows a neighbor to be hungry or without warm clothing.
Being a Christian is helping to relieve suffering in every possible way.
It's as James says:
17. Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18. But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
19. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
This is another thing that I believe many Christians don't remember.
If all we do is believe, we are no better than the demons who cause much of our suffering.
20. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
Each of us must ask ourselves, "Is my form of Christianity useful, or useless, according to James' definition?"
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gives us a good description of what will take place within the church, and beyond the church, when He returns.
31. "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
32. "And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33. and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Remember that we're not really talking about sheep and goats, we're talking about people.
And as easy as it is to tell the difference between a sheep and a goat, so it will be just as easy for the Lord to separate those who do his will, from those who don't, regardless of what they believe or say.
34. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35. ĎFor I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
36. naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to me.í
37. "Then the righteous [those on the right] will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink?
There is something very interesting about the truly faithful: they are so filled with love that they don't even realize that the things they are doing are really "good deeds."
Over the past two weeks I have heard of several of you doing exactly this, and I don't believe any of you did it to receive praise from the Lord.
You just do these things naturally, because you want to, and not for any other reason.
And when you are thanked or praised for what you do, you often question that you did anything special, as in this example Jesus gives us:
38. 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
39. 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
40. "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
These people are always in the process of relieving suffering.
These people step out in their faithfulness, to do the will of God.
They don't do it for a reward, but out of love.
And I believe that God allowed Jesus to be born among the animal, so that we would recognize then as also being brothers of Jesus.
Let us not exclude them from our sphere of love and compassion.
Unfortunately, this is unlike many other people.
41. "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
See how this ties together with what James said about the demons believing and yet shuddering?
42. for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43. I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. '
44. "Then they themselves 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 take care of You?'
45. "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that 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."
Two weeks ago, we asked the question, "Why doesn't God keep us from suffering?"
One of the reasons may be to test us, and as a way of separating the truly faithful from the unfaithful.
In other words, a way of finding the truly humble, and of being a witness against the selfish.
But let us keep focused more upon the positive than the negative.
Let us keep focused upon those who naturally help the Lord relieve suffering.
These people also have a problem.
Because they truly love, unconditionally, they feel the pain and suffering of others, many others, all others, and far too many for them to help everyone as they want to.
And this brings on frustration, because we want to do more than we can, and in this frustration, we sometimes burn out, even to the point of almost being unable to do anything, because we realize we can't do everything.
In this state, we also become the suffering ones, instead of the relievers of suffering.
And this is one of the reasons the Lord wanted us to come together as the church.
The church can do more collectively to relieve suffering, than the sum of what all of the members could do individually.
The church can help eliminate loneliness and insecurity by being a real family, by really caring about each other, and always being open to "adopting" others.
In this, we do a fairly good job when it comes to helping other human beings.
But a church is also to be a place for families, where they can spiritually grow together.
In this we have fallen very short in our service to the community, for we have very few whole families in our congregation, and there are many unchurched families out there.
The church is to be a sanctuary, where people can come to escape the cruelty and indifference of the world around us, and find love and peace.
And here we offer a mixed bag. We do offer sanctuary to many who come, but there are far more out in the community whom we haven't reached.
It is in this offering of love and peace that we are to present eternal life with Jesus Christ and fulfill the Lord's great commission, thereby ending suffering of every kind for all time to come for both humans and non-humans.
We are a very important part of Godís plan for relieving suffering.
This is what being a church is all about, but the job is far from done.
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