By John Piper
God has made plain to us one of the purposes for which pastors must suffer. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:6: “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”
A sermon on this text would have as its main point: “The afflictions of a Christian minister are designed by God to achieve the comfort and salvation of his flock.”
A Design and Purpose for Suffering Pastors
When Paul says to the Corinthians that his afflictions are for their comfort and salvation, he implies there’s a design and purpose in his sufferings. But whose design? Whose purpose?
He doesn’t design and plan his own afflictions. And Satan surely doesn’t design them to comfort and save the church.
Therefore, Paul must mean that God designs and purposes his pastoral afflictions for the good of the church.
God ordained the sufferings of Christ for the redemption of the church (Acts 2:23; 4:27–28), and He ordains the suffering of Christian ministers for the application of that redemption.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
Christ’s afflictions lack nothing in atoning worth. What they lack is a personal presentation in suffering human form to those for whom He died.
What We Complete in our Suffering
This is what pastors and missionaries “complete.” This is a sobering thought but also a comforting one.
On the one hand, it means that the fabric of a pastor’s life will be laced with dark threads of pain.
But on the other hand, it means that every affliction he must endure is designed not only for his own good but for the good of his flock.
Our suffering is not in vain; God never wastes the gift of pain (Philippians 1:29). It’s given to His ministers as He knows best, and its design is the consolation and salvation of our people.
No pastoral suffering is senseless. No pastoral pain is pointless. No adversity is absurd or meaningless. Every heartache has its divine target in the consolation of the saints, even when we feel least useful.
What We Achieve in our Suffering
How does a pastor’s suffering achieve the consolation and salvation of his flock?
The context of Paul’s words suggests the following scenario: Circumstances conspire to crush a pastor’s spirits—perhaps loss of health, loss of a loved one, defection of a friend, unresponsive people, slander, weariness, personal threats, overwork.
Things become so bad that he even despairs of life itself. He cries out, “Why?” The answer comes back from 2 Corinthians 1:9: “That we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.”
If, by grace, we manage a mustard seed of faith in God’s sovereign goodness through it all, we’ll discover unspeakable comfort.
Why God Lets Us Suffer
God’s first great design in all our trouble is that we might let go of self-confidence. When we do that, there’s a temporary sense of falling.
But by faith in God’s mercy, we land, infinitely more secure, in the arms of our Father, who’s utterly in control at the brink of life and death.
But has He brought us through this wrenching fall for ourselves only? No. If we’re afflicted, it’s for your comfort.
So, as 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, we’re able to “comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
A Gracious Design for Pastoral Suffering
All pastoral afflictions are graciously designed to make us rely on God and not ourselves.
Therefore our afflictions prepare us to do the one thing most needful for our people—to point them away from ourselves to the all-sufficient God.
In this alone is consolation and salvation. Therefore, if we’re afflicted, it’s for your comfort and salvation.
JOHN PIPER (@JohnPiper) is the founder and teacher of Desiring God and the chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. Excerpted and adapted with permission from Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Copyright 2013, B&H Publishing Group.