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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Suffer And Rejoice Together

Third Sunday After Epiphany


Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.


Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.


The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I Cor. 12:12-26


We were getting ready to go on vacation to Upper Michigan a number of years ago. We had three kids and we also were returning a niece and a nephew to Kalamazoo on the way. So, needing some extra room in the car, I built a wooden box to attach to the top of our station wagon. The night before we were to leave, I was out on the patio finishing my construction job when wham! I hammered the wrong nail! My left thumb nail! Oh, man, that hurt!! I stuck it in my mouth – I stuck it in ice water – but it hurt!


So I took a couple of super pain pills – the kind that knock you out – and went to bed. I figured it would be okay in the morning. But it wasn’t! It woke me up, throbbing! I took some aspirin, but they didn’t help. And I told my wife, “There’s no way I can drove over 600 miles today with this thumb jumping up and down!” (Especially with 5 kids in the car, also jumping up and down!)


Now it’s a strange thing. I don’t need my left thumb to drive a car. I knew a couple of lumberjacks who didn’t have left thumbs any more – and they could drive their cars perfectly well! What do you need to drive a car? Well, I guess you need eyes to see with, and ears to hear with, and a brain to think with (although I’m pretty sure a person can drive without a brain :)). You need a hand to steer with, and a foot to work the gas and brake pedals. But you don’t need a left thumb! And yet, when my thumb hurt like that, the other parts of my body wouldn’t work right either.


Well, my brother-in-law came over with the niece we were taking to Kalamazoo. And being a sometimes carpenter, and therefore an expert on hammered thumbs, he said there was blood under the nail that had to come out, and then it wouldn’t throb any more. And he even told me how to allow the blood to come out. (I’m not recommending this!) But I took a paper clip and straightened it out, heated it red-hot on the stove, and stuck it through my thumbnail. Hurt?! Wow! Ten times worse than the throbbing! But just for a few seconds. And a big drop of blood came out, and instantly the thumb stopped throbbing. Oh, I had a sore thumb, but no big deal. So I said, “Get the kids in the car – we’re going.” And my eyes and ears and hands and feet – and even my brain – were ready to go!


How did Paul put it? “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” That’s the way it is with our physical bodies, and I’m sure every one of you can translate my story into one of your own. And that’s the way it is with our families, too, of which we’re each a part – whether it’s our immediate family, our extended family, our church family, our school family, our work or our play family. “When one member suffers, all suffer together; and when one member is honored, all rejoice together.”


And every family, however you define it, has some suffering and some rejoicing. The goal, of course, is to have less suffering and clashing and arguing and more rejoicing. And with some understanding, and the help of the Holy Spirit, most families can accomplish that goal – again, whether immediate, extended, church, school, work, or play family.


To understand why the various members of a family clash and cause each other to suffer, we first have to realize that all people are different. Even if they’re similar, they’re still different. And opposites attract each other!


You can see this in the way we usually select our friends – and particularly by our choice of our life partner. The loud, gregarious extrovert subconsciously wishes he could control himself better. When he returns from a party, he’s often secretly embarrassed by his endless chatter and his domination of conversations. The sweet, quiet person subconsciously thinks, “I wish I could be more outgoing.” It’s easy to see why these contrasting types will be interested in each other when they meet. He’s everything she wishes to be, and she’s just what he would secretly like to be. So, they seem to naturally complement each other.


The important thing to note is that people are attracted to each other on the basis of their strengths – but each natural strength has a corresponding weakness! Most couples are so much in love before they’re married that they only see the strengths of the other person. But after the novelty of marriage is over, each partner’s weaknesses begin to appear – and every human being has weaknesses!


And then children come along. And more weaknesses are exposed. There’s rejoicing of course – but there’s suffering too. And as the kids grow older, they also have to learn to live with less-than-perfect parents. The old adage of “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say” is never more true than in the parent-child relationship.


You see, personality conflicts are in reality conflicting weaknesses. They’re weaknesses in one person that irritate the weaknesses in the other. For example, a man gives his active mind to the business of making a living – and his wife feels neglected. She doesn’t realize that before they were married, she was his project, and he gave himself 100%, as he usually does, to reaching his goal of marrying her. Now that his “marriage project” is accomplished, he’s off on the next step in his plan, to support her.


A bride can fall into a dark mood shortly after marriage. The natural letdown after the tense, exciting anticipation of her wedding can lead to a period of depression. She may begin to think “He doesn’t love me anymore,” especially if he puts his feet on the coffee table or doesn’t pick up his dirty socks… and on and on and on.


But differences between family members don’t need to be fatal! No disagreement is a threat to a family; it’s what the members of a family do about disagreements that determines the family’s success or failure – the amount of suffering versus the amount of rejoicing – if you will. Many a family that is sound – solid – healthy today has experienced some pretty vigorous conflicts.


Jesus said he came that we “might have life, and have it abundantly.” He came to live the life we couldn’t live; to die the death we deserve to die; and to live again that we too might live forever. And when He ascended He promised to send the Holy Spirit to all who believe on Him. And with the help of the Holy Spirit we can have life abundantly. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can manage our family conflicts.


An abundant life is a life that is ever more Christ-like, with the Holy Spirit developing in us the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. If we allow this fruit to mature in our lives, our families will surely rejoice. Remember: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”


Let me give you a few suggestions to help you make the right kind of adjustments in your family: First of all, when you feel frustration, resentment, or some other form of hostility, stop – and take an objective look at what causes it. Take your anger out at the problem, not the other person. Secondly, pray about it. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” In your prayer, confess your sin of grieving the Holy Spirit then pray about the other person’s actions, asking God to help him see his shortcomings so you can calmly discuss the matter.


Believe me, it works! God answers prayer. A number of years ago, my wife’s sister and her family moved from California to Northern Virginia, and they lived with us until they got settled in a place of their own. Which was fine – except for one of our daughters and one of their sons. They got along like Israel and Iraq! And every morning, when I’d go downstairs for breakfast, they’d be shooting scud missiles at each other – and pretty soon I’d be right in the middle of it. It was no fun! So my wife suggested that I pray for help before I went downstairs. So I did. And God heard me and helped me. My peace of mind did not depend on their behavior.!


Thirdly, communicate! But be sure you “speak the truth in love.” Pick a good time when you can both share your feelings without getting overly emotional. Never speak in anger, and allow the other person time to think about what you’ve said. And then leave the matter up to the Holy Spirit.


Fourth, ask God to fill you with love for the other person so you can genuinely love them in spite of their weaknesses. Look at their strengths and thank God for them. As Paul told the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.” In other words: “PLTA – Praise the Lord, anyhow!”


And finally, forget past mistakes and sins, as the apostle said, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before.” Don’t dredge up the past; work toward the future!


The late Dr. M.R. DeHaan said, “The nearest thing to Heaven on this earth is the Christian family and the home where husband and wife, and parents and children, live in love and peace together for the Lord and for each other. The nearest thing to Hell on earth is an ungodly home, broken by sin and iniquity, where parents bicker, quarrel and separate, and children are abandoned to the Devil and all the forces of wickedness.” (And that applies to all types of families)


God wants the home to be a haven of love, where husband and wife and children live with a sense of security and a feeling of acceptance. With all the turmoil and violence outside the home, everyone needs some place in life where they’re surrounded by peace and love. God ordained the home as that place of emotional safety.


It’s one thing to act like a Christian on Sunday; it’s another thing to be a Christian at home. Any person that’s a Christian in the eyes of their own family is a real Christian. May God help us in our families to honor one another so we may all “rejoice together.”


Amen

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